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Social sciences researches are the driving force of creativity

By Zhang Mengying | 2013-08-02 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
Professor Ellen Hazelkorn
Chinese Social Sciences Today:  Hello, Professor Ellen Hazelkorn! It’s my honor that you could accept my invitation for this interview. I learnt from the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education about your paper called Measuring Value: Societal Benefits of Research.  I’m really interested in your ideas and your research. Could you please introduce your research to our readers? And many people underestimate the value of social sciences or they think that social sciences cannot contribute to social or economic progress. So what is your opinion? What are the benefits of social sciences research?
Professor Ellen Hazelkorn: Innovation is considered the key policy goal of most countries – particularly as a means of generating pathways to economy recovery.  This has led to increasing emphasis on the commercialisation of university-based research as the ‘engine of the economy’. For most people, innovation is tied to new products and processes in private industry, and involves an emphasis on technology and entrepreneurship, economic utility, patents and licenses, high-performance start-up (HPSUs), etc. In the current economic environment it has led understandably to an increasing focus on short-term utilitarian research with an emphasis on employability.  However, in reality, patents are generally rare, and only a minority of academic researchers are involved in the patenting processes.
This science and technology hegemony has presented a challenge for the arts, humanities and social sciences, because patents, industry contracts, direct economic benefits etc are not the typical research outputs. On the other hand, the term innovation has a wider meaning – and refers to social and cultural change. While science and technology innovation tends to be located within the market economy, social innovation takes place in daily life, in social relationships and behaviour and in the home and is, therefore, not trapped by any standard measures of economic activity. In recent decades, there has been a growing focus not just on new products but on new services, ways of organizing ourselves, society and work, and through new social movements.
The arts, humanities and social sciences have an important role to play – not just in helping us understand our environment, culture and the historical context – but in also bringing a broader understanding and analysis to the way in which science and technology impacts on human society. The arts and culture have played an important role as drivers of urban regeneration and having “economic spill-over” effect in terms of labour intensity, tourism or as a vehicle for attracting business to a particular area. The social sciences underpin strategic and democratic decision-making, and the consequences of different decisions and actions. We spend billions on medical research, but many of the major diseases that continue to affect humanity are not simply medical. We all know smoking is the main contributor to cancer and heart disease – but despite the grotesque images on cigarette packages, the number of people smoking (especially young women) continues to grow. We need to understand how people interact with technology before simply developing and designing new computers, audio equipment, etc. Similarly, understanding cultural differences, the history of regions and peoples is essential if we are to prevent wars. The world’s grand challenges (Environment/Climate, Energy, Human health and healthcare delivery, Food, Water, Security, and Urban infrastructure) require complex interdisciplinary solutions – because the answers are not simply more widgets.
At the same time, we also know that 21st century employments require graduates with the skills/competences of critical thinking and creativity – rather than simply knowing facts. Accordingly, the former World Bank Co-ordinator for Tertiary Education, Dr. Jamil Salmi, has suggested that in the future the most sought after qualification will be the Master of Fine Arts.  
A recent Irish report, Playing to Our Strengths similarly noted that the expectation that science/engineering/technology research is best suited to “create jobs” is to misunderstand what drives creativity in the first place and understates the importance of arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) as well as the underlying importance of generic skills in promoting innovation and productivity. While the AHSS provide skills for specific occupations and sectors which contribute directly to economic sustainability, they also enhance quality of life and help to make Ireland an attractive place to live, work and do business.
Chinese Social Sciences Today:  You mentioned above about the benefits of social sciences to the society. Would you mind talking more about how the benefits of social sciences research should be measured?
Professor Ellen Hazelkorn: Measuring research performance and productivity has tended to focus on very narrowing on measuring peer-review publications, citations and research income. However, this methodology favors the physical, life, and medical sciences. It benefits countries where English is the native language. The emphasis on global impact also undermines the importance of regionally or culturally-relevant outcomes. In contrast, the report of the EU Expert Group report, Assessing Europe’s University-based Research (2010) proposed a wide-ranging methodology because all disciplines have an important contribution to make.
The following table indicates that in addition to journal articles and citations – research is ‘published’ in a wide range of formats and has an impact and influence far beyond the academy. It may be published as books or books chapters, major art works or exhibitions, policy documents, literature or translations, etc. And the impact of research stretches beyond the university to include teaching, improvements on the environment and lifestyle etc. To take account of the impact and benefit of all research, we need to broaden the way in which research is measured and assessed – and also rewarded within the academy. In other words, rather than academic appointments being made only the basis of peer articles, recruitment and promotion, professorships, etc should be based upon the contribution to teaching, knowledge and society.
Chinese Social Sciences Today:  Some social sciences researches are lack of funds compared to science disciplines. Under this circumstance, what are your suggestions and the outlook for the future development of social sciences researches? And how do you think to change this in a better way?
Professor Ellen Hazelkorn:  While it is a disappointment to arts, humanities and social science researchers that the funding available is always less than that for the hard sciences, some of this is inevitable and due to the type of research work being undertaken. The hard sciences require considerable expenditure in equipment and lab space, which the other disciplines realistically do not. This is why using research income as a measurement of research quality is flawed. Nonetheless, differences in resource requirements is regularly used to justify providing less research funding for the arts, humanities and social sciences.
In addition, the arts, humanities and social sciences find it difficult to respond easily to governments and research funding agencies requirements to produce evidence of relevance or impact in the same way as the sciences and technology – because of what has been said above. It is therefore vital that the arts, humanities and social sciences devise reliable, meaningful and verifiable methods to demonstrate value and impact beyond simply self-declaration.
Chinese Social Sciences Today:  In the future, what should we do to promote the development of social sciences and let more people to understand and enjoy the beauty of social sciences?
Professor Ellen Hazelkorn: We live in a very competitive globalised world, in which each country and city-region is seeking to develop, attract and retain talent and investment. Society is more than the economy – it is the aggregation of different cultures, traditions, languages, historical experiences, etc – all of which are illustrated/demonstrated everyday through theatre, art, design, food, fashion, music, heritage, landscape, etc.  Successful knowledge city regions are those where professionals of all kinds come together, drawn by great universities and employment opportunities – but also by the social and cultural environment, the arts, and a strong understanding of history and heritage. Societies which tear down their history in the interests of ‘progress’ may ultimately destroy their future. Cities which embrace the creative and cultural industries are much more likely to attract and retain high-skilled high-spending talent, with all the spin-offs that such a population seeks and demands.
Biography of Professor Ellen Hazelkorn: She is the Director of Research and Enterprise, and Dean of the Graduate School, Dublin Institute of Technology. She also leads the Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU). She is a Consultant to the OECD Program on Institutional Management of Higher Education (IMHE), and is associated with its Centre for Co-operation with Non-Members, and with the International Association of Universities (IAU).  She works as a rapporteur for the EU Expert Group on 'Assessment of University-based Research', and a member of the Irish Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Foresight Working Group.
At the same time, she is a member of the Editorial Boards of Higher Education Management and Policy (OECD) and Higher Education Policy (IAU), and the International Ranking Expert Group (IREG). She is on the Executive of the Dean and European Academic Network (DEAN). She has worked with universities/university associations around the world.