British Academy and Academy of Social Sciences join forces to reveal the impact of the arts, humanities, and social sciences across the UK

26 Jan 2023

Two adults and a group of young students examining an interactive display in a museum.

A major new collaborative project led by the British Academy in association with the Academy of Social Sciences will delve into the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF) case study dataset to reveal new insights about the contribution of the arts, humanities and social sciences to the wellbeing of society, culture and the economy.

The British Academy in association with the Academy of Social Sciences has commissioned a team of researchers based at the University of Oxford’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science to undertake a programme of work. The team, led by Professor Melinda Mills, will examine the stories, successes and cumulative effects on people, the economy and society of the impact of research in the SHAPE disciplines, as demonstrated by the REF 2021 impact case study data.

The project will provide a robust evidence base on which the higher education sector and policymakers can build to articulate the value of research and its impact on society in the UK, and around the world. This work will serve as a starting point for the SHAPE community (social sciences, humanities and the arts for people and the economy) to expand the scope and reach of the evidence base.

The project will be overseen by a steering group consisting of representatives from business and universities across the UK, major funders as well as Fellows of the British Academy and the Academy of Social Sciences. The collaboration brings together the British Academy’s interests across all the SHAPE disciplines and the Academy of Social Science’s focus specifically on the social sciences sector.

The Research Excellence Framework is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education providers and the results are used to inform the distribution of approximately £2 billion per year of public funding for universities’ research. The publication of impact case studies presents an opportunity for the research community to recognise the achievements and successes of research across the UK.

Professor Simon Swain FBA, the British Academy’s Vice-President for Research and Higher Education Policy, said: 

“It is a real pleasure to be working with the Academy of Social Sciences on this hugely exciting and important venture. Through the project the impact of the SHAPE disciplines as evidenced in the REF case studies will be properly analysed for the first time, enabling us and the communities we represent and serve to demonstrate the extraordinary, world-class impact the arts, humanities and social sciences make to the UK’s cultural, social, and economic life, here and globally.”

Rita Gardner CBE FAcSS, the Academy of Social Sciences’ Chief Executive, said: 

“It is a pleasure to be working with the British Academy on such an important project for the benefit of the social sciences, humanities and arts communities and disciplines. Understanding the scope and scale of research impact as evidenced in the REF case studies will provide a much-needed benchmark and inform the advocacy work of both organisations”.

Professor Melinda Mills MBE FBA FAcSS, Lead investigator and Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, said: 

“Our team is excited to apply a mixed-method approach to understand and reveal the stories and successes of the impact of research, combining a computational approach of natural language processing, machine learning and quantitative indicators with a qualitative assessment.”

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