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International best examples of teaching quantitative skills in social science degrees highlighted by British Academy report

Press release •

A new report published by the British Academy today asks UK universities to consider examples of excellent quantitative skills teaching in social science departments in other parts of the world, if they are to reach the standards achieved by leading universities elsewhere.

Measuring Up cites 16 case studies of social science teaching in universities in Europe, North America and Australasia which reach higher levels of achievement in quantitative skills than their UK counterparts. It argues that UK universities set their expectations far too low, and warns that UK social science education may fail to give students the skills they need. The report is part of ongoing work by the British Academy to address the UK’s numeracy skills deficit.

Written by John MacInnes, Maddie Breeze, Maite de Haro, Mor Kandlik and Martina Karels (University of Edinburgh), the report found that elsewhere in the world, university degree programmes devote a much larger share of curriculum time to the study of methods, both quantitative and qualitative, and that their curricula give more attention to the collection, evaluation and analysis of empirical evidence.

In addition, it found that in these case studies, university faculties are more likely to have advanced quantitative skills than in the UK, and substantial amounts of teaching and support are provided by post docs and postgraduates.

Examples of the degree courses identified by the report as examples of best practice and innovation in the teaching of quantitative methods and statistics to undergraduate social science students include:

  • University of Auckland (New Zealand), First year Statistics: teaching focuses on data visualisation and innovative use of online resources
  • University of Bergen (Norway), Department of Sociology: emphasis on data analysis rather than statistical theory 
  • University of Lausanne (Switzerland), 3 year BA. Political Science, Social Science: quantitative and qualitative methods skills are embedded in all substantive modules, and all staff are expected to be fluent in both quantitative and qualitative methods  

Measuring Up concludes that there is no 'one best way' to teach quantitative skills to undergraduates, but that these case studies show that small group work, working with real data, peer learning and frequent assessments are all common features of courses that allow students to obtain high levels of achievement. 

The report can be downloaded from the British Academy website: www.britishacademy.ac.uk/measuringup

Notes to editors:

1. Measuring Up focuses on sociology, social policy, politics and international studies and related disciplines (such as organisation studies, management, education, communications studies). It does not cover economics and experimental psychology given that the approach to teaching in both these disciplines is rather different, both in the UK and elsewhere.

2. For further information, a copy of the report or interviews with the authors please contact the British Academy's Press Office on press@britac.ac.uk or 020 7969 5227.

3.The British Academy for the humanities and social sciences. Established by Royal Charter in 1902. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value. For more information, please visit www.britishacademy.ac.uk. Follow the British Academy on Twitter @britac_news 

4.In 2011, the British Academy launched a programme, with funding from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, targeting deficits in languages and quantitative skills. The programme of work reflects the Academy’s longstanding concerns about deficits in these areas of the humanities and social sciences, as well as in UK education and research. Through the programme, the Academy funds research and relevant initiatives, and seeks to influence policy in these areas.