The arts, humanities and social sciences bring “significant social and economic benefits” to the nation – but existing measures of knowledge exchange struggle to capture this impact, a new report from the British Academy has today claimed.
Research England this year released the first iteration of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), a long-awaited analysis of the impact universities have on the economy, society and culture of the country. While the KEF “does capture a diverse array of […] activities”, the Academy said, new metrics were needed to better account for the disciplines it represents.
The KEF uses existing data to quantify how universities contribute through research, partnerships with businesses, the public sector and charities, new enterprises and intellectual property, local economic growth and community engagement. Research England has already committed to a review of the KEF.
The Academy recommends the next iteration includes policy engagement and influence, engagement with schools and colleges, and support for equality, diversity and inclusion as measures – as these are areas where SHAPE subjects make significant, and as yet unquantified, impact.
SHAPE – Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy – is the ‘rebranding’ devised last year by the Academy, LSE and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to emulate the influence and reputation of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).
The wider societal benefits of SHAPE disciplines have also been underscored during the Covid-19 pandemic, where SHAPE insights have been vital to working with local communities and understanding and influencing societal behaviours
– Prof Simon Swain, British Academy
The report comprises case studies that illustrate the British Academy’s argument. It highlights the N8 Policing Research Partnership – comprising eight universities and 11 police forces across the north of England – which has developed policy, practice and training for eight years, most notably around tackling and preventing domestic violence.
The Greater Manchester Independent Prosperity Review, undertaken with detailed work from the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and UCL, helped the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to make a 20-year plan of investments and decisions.
Similarly, The Care Policy and Evaluation Centre at LSE contributed evidence and analysis to the Office of Budgetary Responsibility, the Treasury, 10 Downing Street analytical unit and the Department for Health and Social Care. It independently reviewed improvements in dementia care for the government’s national policy framework.
Elsewhere, the report highlights the work of five universities that organised Routes into Languages North East that sought to encourage the uptake of modern foreign languages in schools across the region – and a new partnership between Croydon Council and London South Bank University that will result in a new centre for training in the south London borough.
A research partnership led by the University of Sheffield that seeks to understand how the public interprets data was cited as an example of how humanities can help improve communication and digital literacy.
It also highlights a joint initiative between Welsh and Irish universities to understand the changes affecting coastal ports and towns – and how business, art and culture can lead to regeneration.
“Capturing and celebrating knowledge exchange is a powerful and essential part of making the case for investment in SHAPE research and education,” said Prof Simon Swain FBA, vice-president for research and higher education and chair of the British Academy Research and Higher Education Policy Committee.
“Whether it is assisting the police to reduce domestic abuse and better support victims, providing our leaders with the expert evidence they need to make difficult decisions about public spending, enriching and regenerating local communities, or giving people enjoyable and memorable experiences, knowledge exchange in SHAPE disciplines is relevant and effective.
“The wider societal benefits of SHAPE disciplines have also been underscored during the Covid-19 pandemic, where SHAPE insights have been vital to working with local communities and understanding and influencing societal behaviours, for instance about face masks and vaccines.”