Within a few years, all students on social science courses at British universities will possess basic statistical capacity, if the hopes of the promoters of a new initiative are borne out.
With financial support from the Nuffield Foundation – its director, Sharon Witherspoon, is pictured left – the Economic and Social Research Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, new centres of excellence in teaching social science undergraduates quantitative methods are to be established. The plan is that they will boost capacity, first among those undertaking postgraduate work then later among academic staff, ensuring future supplies of sociologists, social policy specialists, political scientists who can pass on their quantitative skills.
The British Academy issued a position paper welcoming the £15.5m endowment. It has recently established a high-level strategy group to promote stats and quantitative capacity outside the so-called STEM (science and technology) subjects. Writing in THE, the group’s chair Professor Ian Diamond the vice chancellor of the University of Aberdeen and a distinguished social statistician deploreda gap in national capacity, that could reduce the overall quality of research and teaching in such subjects as sociology.
Writing in the Guardian Sharon Witherspoon said that UK social science had many strengths, ‘not least in our impressive data infrastructure (with birth cohort studies, longitudinal studies and others), and in imaginative qualitative research. But over the years it has become increasingly clear that it is weaker than it should be in quantitative research skills.’
The BA Position Statement – Society Counts concluded the deficit in quantitative skills ‘has serious implications for the future of the UK’s status as a world leader in research and higher education, for the employability of our graduates, and for the competitiveness of the UK’s economy’.
Professor Diamond’s group includes representatives from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, the learned societies and exam boards and RSS getstats.