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Cash boost for quantitative social science skills training

A £15.5 million programme for training social science undergraduates in quantitative methods has been announced by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Nuffield Foundation.

The five-year scheme will fund up to 15 specialist centres to provide quantitative skills training for social science undergraduates, with the aim of embedding a long-term institutional change.

The group says the plan is a strategic response to a critical shortage of skills in the field, “which has led to employers across all sectors unable to recruit people with the skills to apply quantitative methods to evaluating evidence and analysing data”.

Its announcement coincides with a statement from the British Academy saying that a “serious deficit” in such skills within the social sciences and humanities “threatens the overall competitiveness of the UK’s economy [and] the effectiveness of public policy-making”.

This statement, ‘Society counts’, highlights a lack of academic staff teaching social science students quantitative methods in “relevant and exciting” ways, finding that only one in ten university social science lecturers has the skills necessary to do so.

“Complex statistical and analytical work on large and complex data now underpins much of the UK’s research, political and business worlds,” said Adam Roberts, president of the British Academy. “Without the right skills to analyse this data properly, government professionals, politicians, businesses and most of all the public are vulnerable to misinterpretation and wrong decision-making.”

The British Academy has welcomed the programme, which will allow undergraduate departments in higher education institutions to apply individually or as a group.

Successful institutions can access up to £350,000 a year for up to five years to develop training activities and improve students’ understanding of research design. They will also form a network of specialist centres, with the aim of sharing expertise and ideas, and passing on the resources developed to other universities.

The deadline for applications is February 2013, and there will be two events discussing the programme on 19 October and 8 November, in London and Manchester respectively.