Go back

Arts and social sciences face Brexit ‘devastation’

Archaeology and classics ‘at risk’, say national academies

If Britain loses access to European funding programmes after Brexit, disciplines in the social sciences and arts and humanities will suffer the most, a report commissioned by the UK’s national academies has found.

There are 15 disciplines for which income from the European Union is more than a fifth of the total research-grant income, the report, published on 24 May, said. Seven are in the social sciences, six are in the arts and humanities, and two are in the physical sciences.

Archaeology research is the most threatened, as 38 per cent of its funding comes from the EU. This is followed by classics (33 per cent), IT (30 per cent), media studies (27 per cent) and law (26 per cent).

The rest of the 15 are: philosophy, modern languages, anthropology and development studies, business and management studies, chemistry, area studies, politics, architecture, art and design, and sociology.

Barry Smith, director of the Institute of Philosophy at the University of London, said that losing access to EU funds after Brexit would be “disastrous” for UK humanities research. “We simply can’t maintain the power and quality of our research without participating in European funding schemes,” he added.

The Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society jointly commissioned the consultancy Technopolis to provide an “in-depth understanding” of the role of EU funding for research and innovation in the UK. British universities received £725 million in research grant income from EU funds in 2014-15, the report found.

The data, provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, cover research grants and contract income from all public sector bodies operating in the EU, including the European Commission. The Royal Society told Research Fortnight that the vast majority of the £725m was from EU institutions.

Mike Heyworth, director of the Council for British Archaeology, said he believed that Brexit could “devastate” UK archaeological research. The quality of archaeology research and teaching in UK universities has never been higher: the QS World Universities ranking shows that British departments fill the top four archaeology places, he said.

Archaeology research at UK universities receives more funding from the EU than from the UK government: UK universities received about £8.7m from the EU for archaeology research in 2014-15, compared with £5.9m from the UK government, the report said.

The potential loss of EU funding has already led universities to consider cutbacks, Heyworth said. “They are having to think long and hard about what they continue to teach and how. That’s where archaeology is very vulnerable.”

Ash Amin, foreign secretary of the British Academy, said that the high proportion of EU funding in the humanities and social sciences “also demonstrates the limited funding sources that exist within the UK”.

Will Jennings, director of the Centre for Citizenship, Globalisation and Governance at the University of Southampton, said it was clear that European funders were very interested in social science questions. “In the UK system there is shrinking funding for this kind of research.” Tightening budgets for the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council show that these disciplines haven’t been prioritised, he said. 

It is significant that there is no humanities or social sciences representative on the high-level Brexit group on universities convened by science and universities minister Jo Johnson, said James Wilsdon, chairman of the Campaign for Social Science.

Simon Keay, associate dean of research in humanities at the University of Southampton, urged the government to continue supporting excellence in the humanities and social sciences, ideally through the European Research Council. “There is a danger that our hard-won international research collaborations will be lost, and British academia will suffer,” he warned.

This article also appeared in Research Fortnight, and a version of the article appeared in Research Europe