Great Expectations: the social sciences in Britain

Charles Clarke MP, Secretary of State for Education and Skills, launched the report of the national review of the social sciences on Tuesday, 25 March 2003. The 160 page report, Great Expectations: the Social Sciences in Britain, has been produced by the independent 12-member Commission on the Social Sciences in response to a proposal by the Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences. It summarises the current strengths of the social sciences in Britain - which have an annual turnover of £2.8 billion in universities alone, 20% of which is for research - and areas of concern, based upon contributions from over 200 individuals and many organisations, plus a review of many statistical sources. The report contains 60 recommendations to various parts of government, the funding councils, the Economic and Social Research Council and other research funders, and to universities and other important 'players'.

Terms of reference for the Commission
  • define the current nature, focus, status, health and contribution to society of the social sciences in the United Kingdom
  • assess these characteristics in the light of international comparators where possible and assess the extent and value of international links in these areas
  • identify the challenges in regard to the social sciences' health and contribution to society
  • set out a vision for the future development of social sciences, taking account of the environment in which they currently operate and how this seems likely to change in the next ten years. This vision is to be capable of implementation by each of the various players according to their role and resources
  • set out a programme of action capable of implementation
  • propose criteria by which the success of the Commission can be judged
Desirable outcomes from the Commission's work
  • greater clarity on the distinctive nature of the social sciences in the United Kingdom
  • identification of the diversity within the social sciences and the scope for inter-disciplinary working
  • an overall map of the players and their roles and resources including international 'drivers'
  • an account of social science research and its use in evidence-based policy-making
  • an account of the use of social science research in evidence-based policy making
  • a consideration of the relationship the creators of research-based knowledge and its users
  • identification of areas which are currently under-researched and reasons why this is so
  • recommendations on the scope of education and training in and about the social sciences
  • an action plan to address identified of areas of concern
Consultation with the Social Science community and related parties

  • open discussion of the objectives, subjects being studied and progress of the Commission's work
  • encouragement for social scientists - and those affected by the work of social scientists to contribute views on the topics under study e.g. via a Commission web site and other mechanisms
  • contributions by Commission members will be made at appropriate stages to the meetings of the Learned Societies within the Academy.
  • adherence to deadlines
  • whilst the members of the Commission will listen to the views of all parties, they do not commit themselves to acceptance of any one viewpoint, including that of the Academy
  • the views of the Commission will not necessarily reflect the views of the Academy