UCL: Social Science has power to ‘level up’ the UK

Social scientists are making powerful practical contributions to ‘Levelling up’ cities, regions, or countries in the UK – improving economic growth, services and quality of life – finds a major new report, which showcases the impact of UCL-partnered projects.

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“The Place to Be”, published by the Academy of Social Sciences in partnership with SAGE Publishing, highlights the breadth and depth of work being done across the social sciences to address national and regional inequalities and illustrates the vital role social sciences will need to play in the ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Bringing together 24 case studies, including two involving UCL academics, the report demonstrates the critical work university-based social scientists are doing to make local areas, businesses and public services better, and improve social and economic outcomes.

The two case studies involving UCL as a major partner include “Lifeguide: Online Support for Positive Health Behaviour Change”, which investigates how the internet can be used effectively to deliver behavioural health interventions, and “Consumer Data Research Centre”, which brings together academic researchers from across the social sciences, public sector and industry to harness ‘big data’ to address social and economic challenges.

Professor David Price, Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement) said: “The Place to Be not only demonstrates the critical role that social science subjects play in levelling up, but also clearly highlights the need to collaborate beyond our university campus with a range of partners to generate real world impact at the local, regional and national levels. At UCL, we have long-known the importance of working across both disciplinary and physical boundaries to address inequalities, and are delighted to have our work showcased in this new report.”

With Whitehall preparing new ‘levelling up’ plans, the chosen case studies demonstrate how important robust social science is in realising the vision of the core themes of ‘levelling up’: empowering leaders and communities; growing the private sector and boosting living standards; spreading opportunity and boosting public services; and restoring local pride.

Professor Sasha Roseneil, Pro-Provost (Equity & Inclusion) and Dean, UCL Social and Historical Sciences, said: “In a world and nation in which place-based inequalities continue to grow, UCL’s social scientists are making important contributions to our ability to understand and tackle deep-rooted social problems. This report vividly illustrates the enormous societal value of the social sciences.”

Overall, the report argues that social sciences matter for ‘levelling up’ – and using social science makes a difference to ‘levelling-up’ plans and outcomes, with virtually every social science discipline – from economics and geography to sociology and psychology – playing a part. It emphasises that complex data used by social scientists is essential, with Covid-19 clearly demonstrating this, and argues for more social scientists with the skills to work effectively with the data – and for data to be even better and more accessible.

It also highlights that university-based social scientists undertake work as part of the civic mission of their university, a role that universities take seriously and that many fund themselves to make their areas better. It argues that local areas would benefit even more if there was more co-ordination in support, more partnerships working across institutions, and more learning about what works. It stresses that results arise when funding from universities and local businesses or local authorities is based on long-term partnerships, with clear and stable funding to support this work vital.

Lord Bob Kerslake, Chair of Sheffield Hallam University and the UK2070 Commission, said: “This report provides powerful evidence through its case studies of the vital importance of the civic role of universities in general and of social scientists in particular in the economic and social wellbeing of their places.

“Successful rebalancing or levelling up the UK will require comprehensive, long term and large-scale action across a wide range of areas. It can only be delivered in places with strong local leadership and effective local capacity. Universities in their civic role can be major contributors to both. The challenge is how to ensure that contribution is there for the places that need it most.”

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