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Universities: ‘Interdisciplinarity needs funds and shared labs’


Network leaders want humanities researchers involved in the design of programmes and projects

The heads of two university groups have called on research funders and employers to increase their support for interdisciplinary R&D by providing more funding for collaborative projects and shared lab space to encourage mingling.

“The major challenges we face today—whether they are cultural, ecological, economic, health-related, social or societal—are so complex and overarching that interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research collaboration is needed to assess, understand and contribute to solving them,” said Rik Van de Walle, president of Cesaer, and Luciano Saso, president of Unica, in an open letter published on 1 December.

The leaders of the two groups, which represent more than 100 European universities, said in their letter that they had identified “a number of issues” that hampered collaboration between the social sciences, humanities and other R&D fields when it came to seeking funding. The letter was addressed to R&D leaders at the European Commission and Science Europe, an association of research funders and performers.

Van de Walle and Saso flagged obstacles including the continued reliance of research funders and employers on publication in ‘high-impact’ journals when assessing researchers’ work, and said that social sciences and humanities researchers were often brought onto projects late, meaning they were not sufficiently involved in the design process.

To overcome these and other obstacles, they said that employers should encourage interaction among disciplines such as through shared spaces, and that funders including the Commission should involve social sciences and humanities researchers in the design of their funding programmes and calls.