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Researchers Warn against Neglecting Social Sciences and Humanities in Europe

Experts of Freie Universität Berlin and The London School of Economics Issue Plea That European Research Funding Should Not Be Limited to Engineering and Natural Sciences

№ 152/2011 from May 20, 2011

In a discussion with Members of the European Parliament and the EU Commission in Brussels, researchers of Freie Universität Berlin and The London School of Economics warned against limiting EU funding programs to natural sciences and engineering. In a globalized Europe, social sciences and humanities play an outstanding role for providing solutions to societal challenges. The background of the discussion is the restructuring of research funding in the European Union with a stronger focus on innovation and research projects that tackle climate change, energy and resource efficiency, health, and demographic change. The researchers asked the European Commission to continue the independent program for social sciences and humanities beyond the year 2014.

Over 80 representatives of research, policy, and society attended the event, which was organized by the Brussels Liaison Office of Freie Universität Berlin in cooperation with MEP Maria Da Graça Carvalho of the European People's Party.

"The question is not, what Europe can do for social sciences and the humanities, but instead, what social sciences and the humanities can do for Europe," said Erika Fischer-Lichte, Professor in Theatre Studies at Freie Universität Berlin and panel chair of the European Research Council. European society has evolved into a multiethnic, multicultural, and multireligious society. These changes result in new questions and challenges that cannot be solved by research on climate change or energy.

Iain Begg, Professor at The London School of Economics and Rapporteur of the expert group on the interim evaluation of the current framework program, highlighted that nearly three quarters of economic activity was now in the service sector: "Innovation in these sectors will have a correspondingly larger impact on aggregate productivity growth." Social sciences and humanities provide the scientific basis for responding to economic, political, and societal challenges. By offering insights into pricing and regulation as well as behavioral change, they also contribute to challenges such as climate change and aging.

MEP Maria Da Graça Carvalho, who is a Member of the EP Committee for Industry, Research and Energy said that social sciences and humanities evidently have a very important role to play to ensure both quality of life for citizens and social innovation for Europe in a globalized world. MEP Britta Thomsen of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats emphasized that research in these subjects provided the scientific basis for being able to make sound political decisions: "We need more, and not less European research in social science and humanities."

Dr Charlotte Fiala, Head of the EU Liaison Office of Freie Universität Berlin, pointed out that nearly 60% of all tertiary graduates in Europe graduate in social sciences and humanities and that the small budget of only 2% of the current budget of the cooperation program does not reflect this importance: "To cut down on research funding for social science and humanities means missing out on an entire generation of future innovation leaders."

In reaction to the appeals for an independent budget, Patricia Reilly, Member of Cabinet of Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, EU Commissioner for Research and Innovation, answered: "I really do not know whether there will be an independent program for social science and humanities. However, I would like to stress the importance of interdisciplinary research. We are looking at climate change, food security, and an aging population, and social science and humanities will not be in a lower position compared to other research disciplines."

Freie Universität Berlin has already brought forward reasons for European research funding for social sciences and humanities since October 2010. Its position paper was taken up by numerous universities and research associations all over Europe to make appeals to the European Commission and Parliament.

For further information, please contact:

Charlotte Fiala, EU Liaison Office of Freie Universität Berlin in Brussels; Telephone: +32 2 213 41 63; Email: charlotte.fiala@fu-berlin.de; www.fu-berlin.de/brussels