Posted tagged ‘social sciences’

Science and the humanities: an eternal battle?

March 29, 2010

Over recent years the debates on higher education funding have addressed not just whether that funding is sufficient, but also increasingly how it should be distributed. In this context the growing volume of science funding, often linked to economic development priorities, has sometimes raised the issue of whether science and engineering have got a better deal than the humanities, the arts and the social sciences. Sometimes this debate addresses issues of how the humanities can also stimulate the economy, and sometimes it has more generally raised the question of whether we are neglecting disciplines that have major pedagogical benefits and which moreover provide important social and cultural supports.

This issue was recently discussed in the Guardian newspaper by the columnist Simon Jenkins. He argues that an attack on the humanities, arts and social sciences set in under Margaret Thatcher, who considered these areas to be socialist breeding grounds, and that since then politicians have maintained a bias towards science funding, with Peter Mandelson in the UK completing this process. Jenkins argues that the universities need to re-assert their autonomy and their support for all disciplines on a fair basis.

It is hard to know what to do with this debate. Clearly universities, at least as a sector, need to maintain a balance between the disciplines, though this may still allow some individual universities to specialise. However, it is not helpful to suggest that there is some sort of academic class war between disciplines; in fact one of the more helpful recent developments has been the growth of interdisciplinary dialogue between the humanities and the sciences and the growth of joint projects between them in both teaching and research. It is also unavoidable that scientists will, in overall money terms, gain more funding than the humanities because their infrastructure and equipment is much more expensive. Nor is it entirely unreasonable to fund research that will secure major economic growth andf benefits.

However, it is also vital the universities develop a clear policy for the development of their disciplines, and that such a policy should leave no doubt about the equal value of the arts, humanities and social sciences, and their claim to be recognised as vital academic areas. It is in nobody’s interests that there should be hostility between different parts of the academy. To avoid this requires a better dialogue and more transparent decision-making.

Are we neglecting the humanities?

August 25, 2008

As the various reports about and proposals for universities in Ireland have emerged in recent years, one of the regular points of concern expressed by those  commenting on them has been that all our higher education strategy seems to be focused on science and engineering. Certainly the funding for the national research agenda has been particularly generous to those fields that are covered by Science Foundation Ireland.

In fact, the funding of research in science, engineering and ICT is of vital significance as Ireland seeks to stay out of recession and move towards renewed economic growth. And in fairness, there are increasing opportunities for researchers in the humanities and social sciences to make contributions to the major science research programmes.

But equally it has to be said the a higher education sector in which the arts, humanities and social sciences appear to be second class citizens will not be able to support and sustain a cultured, equitable and literate society, which is also significant in maintaining a successful and stable economy, as well as being vital in its own right.

It is therefore to be welcomes that, at the current time, there is to be a Foresight in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Exercise, conducted jointly by the Higher Education Authority and the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences – the terms of reference can be seen here.

Over recent years there has been the development of a clear strategy for science and engineering, which has well understood policy goals and significant funding. It is now vital to achieve the same for the humanities and social sciences. This is both right from an intellectual point of view and important for practical reasons: issues such as the management of migration, the development of a properly understood framework of ethics, the development of proper linguistic skills, the drawing up of a proper framework for the performing arts have a major national significance and require strong and confident teams working in the humanities.

It is to be hoped that the Foresight exercise will be conducted speedily and will have visible results – the country will benefit strongly if that is the case.


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