Getting into SHAPE for 2023
11 Jan 2023
It is only the second week of 2023, but already the British Academy is back in action. Today we have published a comprehensive report examining the uptake of humanities and social science qualifications in secondary and further education in the UK. Inevitably, the report is a long and detailed piece of work so, to help bring the data to life we have also plotted some of the trends visually, via a new SHAPE Indicators project. The platform will expand throughout the year as we crunch and add various annual datasets on subject take-up through the education pipeline, and we are keen to hear from colleagues across the higher education sector about we can improve the platform going forward.
Our report, Studying SHAPE, analyses ten years of entry data across GCSE, A-Levels, and Scottish qualifications from over a dozen subjects. Analysing these qualifications is important for understanding the pipeline of people moving into the humanities and social sciences in higher education. As is often the case with such reports, the data presents a mixed picture for uptake of the SHAPE disciplines. Geography, Sociology, and Psychology remain popular. However, there is no denying that many humanities subjects have endured a challenging decade with History, English, Philosophy, French and German all seeing ups and downs across different regions, levels of study and timeframes.
However, there is no denying that many humanities subjects have endured a challenging decade with History, English, Philosophy, French and German all seeing ups and downs across different regions, levels of study and timeframes.
But although the data is important - indeed, providing an independent and robust evidence base for the health of our disciplines is a major priority for the British Academy – more work is needed to help turn things around for some of our more embattled subjects. On that front, here is just a taste of the work we will be doing in 2023 and beyond to help drive up the number of students in these subjects across the future higher education landscape.
In Spring we will publish our next Strategic Plan, which will set out how we intend to mobilise the insights of the social sciences and humanities for everyone’s benefit. Integral to this is continuing to tackle the prevailing narrative that misrepresents the humanities and social sciences as ‘low value’ or ‘non-essential’, and we will continue meeting regularly with government ministers, MPs and other stakeholders to advocate for our subjects and demonstrate their value.
More specifically, we will also focus on individual subjects where the number of students is declining, focusing not just on the data but on the drivers behind the trends and what can be done to change them. For instance, in 2020, working with sector partners, we published our National Languages Strategy and this year we will implement some of its main recommendations. Together with a broad church of representatives from the language education community, we will formally launch a single portal for languages provision in the UK, a place where teachers, parents and anyone interested in learning a language can find a wide range of resources, from information on courses to apps, podcasts and research on language skills acquisition. Meanwhile, a new report will begin to build the evidence base on language provision in further education in the UK. We will also publish a new ‘deep dive’ report on the health of English Studies, which has been subject to course cuts and closures in recent years, but where we are also seeing new and innovative courses developing.
This is just one part of a wider body of the Academy’s wider work to advocate for our subjects and strengthen the UK’s SHAPE research base.
In June we will host our annual Summer Showcase, a free festival that gives a platform to some of the leading lights in SHAPE, helping them to communicate the enormous value of their subjects to a diverse and engaged audience. Summer will see us obtain the first results from an innovative trial that we are running as part of the selection process for our Small Research Grants; this ‘partial randomisation’ method could boost the diversity of our grant recipients and pave the way for similar UK-wide initiatives. We will also seek to roll out our pioneering Early Career Researcher Network nationally, building on the enormous success of our existing three hubs which provide talented researchers with a space to innovate, network and further their own professional development.
Meanwhile, the British Academy’s home on Carlton House Terrace will undergo a dramatic physical transformation. With generous support from the Wolfson Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, from Fellows and other private donors, our lower floors will become three new double-height event spaces technologically equipped for conferences, lectures, workshops, festivals, and performances.
The contributions of SHAPE to our society run deep. From shedding light on the societal impacts of COVID-19 to stimulating economic growth, ensuring the ethical use of technology and informing our approach to the climate emergency, the insights of the humanities and social sciences are core to solving many of today’s greatest challenges. We know this, and we will keep making our case at every opportunity. But we cannot change things alone. Indeed, we need buy-in from anyone and everyone who wants to see a brighter future.
The contributions of SHAPE to our society run deep. From shedding light on the societal impacts of COVID-19 to stimulating economic growth, ensuring the ethical use of technology and informing our approach to the climate emergency, the insights of the humanities and social sciences are core to solving many of today’s greatest challenges.
So, whether you are in government or policy, whether you are a teacher or a parent, whether you work in science, technology, engineering or maths, we hope you will join us this year in attempting to secure a strong future for the humanities and social sciences in order that peoples around the world can learn, progress and prosper wisely.