The British Academy calls for next government to strengthen humanities and social sciences to tackle the UK's biggest challenges

29 May 2024

The next government must urgently bolster humanities and social sciences in higher education and research, to fully address the UK’s biggest challenges – according to the British Academy’s manifesto published today.

With SHAPE subjects (social sciences, humanities and the arts for people and the economy) currently in worrying decline at a time when so many global challenges rely on an understanding of people, cultures and societies, the manifesto sets out three ways the next government should harness these subjects by:

  1. Supporting an educational system that is sustainable, sparks creativity and offers opportunities to all;
  2. Using insights and evidence from all subjects and disciplines to address society’s biggest challenges;
  3. Recognising the value of the international nature of our research and higher education system.

It sets out how this can be achieved, including:

  • An urgent review of higher education funding to create a sustainable model that delivers a wide breadth of subjects and is resilient to regional inequalities in provision
  • A broad, balanced, and interconnected school curriculum, which will enable and encourage all students to study a range of disciplines and languages for as long as possible
  • A commitment to a responsibly open immigration system for international students which recognises that the strength of our universities lies in their international character
  • Improved support for museums, libraries and archives which provide valuable research infrastructure for the arts, humanities and social sciences
  • The UK to play an active role in shaping the development of the next round of European Framework Programmes and to rejoin the Erasmus Plus scheme
  • The reduction of barriers to international collaboration and research mobility with a substantial cut to the costs of visas and associated fees, the end to the need to pay upfront for these costs, the removal of the Immigration Health Surcharge and for sanctuary to be provided to researchers at risk around the world, as the UK has done in relation to Ukraine

Professor Julia Black, President of the British Academy, said: “Our global society faces challenges which are greater than ever before. Our leaders need a deep understanding of cultures, histories, geographies, languages, institutions, economies, behaviours, laws and beliefs – all of which is provided by SHAPE subjects. But the higher education and research landscape faces serious challenges which are posing a direct threat to their health and future. We urge the next government to take the action that is required to protect and enhance our disciplines for the health, wealth and prosperity of all society.”

As the Academy publishes its new manifesto, the President of the British Academy has today written to the Prime Minister – and other party leaders – to set out the serious situation facing the higher education sector in this country and the significance of this for the UK’s future resilience and prosperity; and to ask that the government acts with urgency to ensure we remain a world-leader in the social sciences and humanities.

Read the British Academy’s manifesto and our President, Professor Julia Black's letter to the Prime Minister.

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For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 07500 010 432.

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