Overhauling quantitative social science training
3 October 2013
Cardiff is one of fifteen universities across the UK to receive a share of £19.5M to overhaul their social science teaching in an ambitious intervention to address the critical shortage of social scientists with the quantitative skills needed to evaluate evidence and analyse data.
The universities have all been selected to host 'Q-Step', a programme designed to promote a step-change in quantitative social science training, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).
Cardiff, along with the other selected universities will form a network of 'Q-Step Centres', delivering new undergraduate programmes in quantitative social science. These will include the development of new courses, production of new content for existing courses, experimenting with new ways of teaching, as well as work placements and pathways to postgraduate study.
Under the new programme, Cardiff will offer a degree in BSc Social Analytics; new Quantitative Methods modules; compulsory work placements for Social Analytics pathway; a residential summer school with field trips; placements in a university research environment; and new Joint Honours degree to be developed into 3 + 1 Masters course.
The Cardiff Q-Step Centre will be led by Professor Malcolm Williams, Dr Sin Yi Chueng and Dr Luke Sloan of the School of Social Sciences. Professor Williams, Head of the School said: "Cardiff University has been at the forefront of pioneering innovative teaching in quantitative methods and this Centre will provide the means to take our work to the next level. Quantitative skills will be crucial to the next generation of social science students in order that they may successfully compete in the labour market. Moreover for social science to be relevant in society, it must fully engage with numbers. Q-Step will provide not just the opportunities for individual universities, but it will also create added value through the Q-Step Centres working together to raise our collective game."
Although targeted at undergraduates, Q-Step aims to promote quantitative skills training across the course of the education system, from recruitment of school students to specialist training for those going on to postgraduate work. Expertise and resources will be shared across the higher education sector through an accompanying support programme, which will also forge links with schools and employers.
NatCen Social Research, the UK's leading independent social research will contribute to the work of the new Q-Step centre at Cardiff by hosting student placements and sharing their experience of some of the UK's most challenging research studies with students through workshops, career advice sessions and lectures. Kandy Woodfield, Director of Learning at NatCen said: "NatCen is committed to building capability and capacity in the social research sector. We are pleased to be working alongside Cardiff University in this important initiative which is building a strong future for quantitative social science in the UK."
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: "Evaluating and analysing data is an essential part of science education and we need more people with these important skills. Q-Step will deliver an exciting programme, increasing the number of skilled graduates in quantitative social science. By sharing expertise and resources across the education sector, this programme is a step in the right direction to give students the skills they need and help employers build long lasting relationships with universities."
Sharon Witherspoon, Director of the Nuffield Foundation said: "The number and high standard of applications for Q-Step funding demonstrates a shared recognition that the weakness of quantitative skills training in much social science matters – and shows there is a shared commitment to do something about it. With a network of fifteen universities across the UK, as well as an emphasis on building links with schools and employers, we now hope to build the critical mass necessary to promote a real step-change in skills over the long term.
Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the ESRC said: "I am delighted that ESRC will be working in partnership with The Nuffield Foundation and HEFCE in funding the Q-Step Centres. ESRC is committed to enhancing quantitative methods skills for social scientists at all stages of their careers and we believe these centres will generate new cohorts of highly skilled students. I am confident that both universities and students will benefit in the long term from the funding and support given from today."
Chris Milward, Associate Director of HEFCE said:"We are pleased to support this step-change in activity, which will yield a new generation of social science graduates who are fit for the future. The centres will work closely with university outreach activities to stimulate early interest in quantitative skills. This approach builds on evidence from recent research and puts flesh on HEFCE's commitment to continue to address risks to subjects following the higher education reforms. We look forward to working with the Q-Step Centres and other institutions to extend the benefits widely across the sector."
Planned Q-step activities for Cardiff University:
- New BSc Joint Honours degrees in each of the relevant disciplines plus Social Analytics
- New QM modules, most of which will utilise secondary data analysis
- Compulsory work placements for Social Analytics pathway
- Residential summer school with field trips
- Placements in a university research environment
- New Joint Honours degree to be developed into 3 + 1 Masters course