Professor slams attack on social sciences

A SENIOR Sheffield University academic has launched a fierce attack on government education policy, warning it is threatening vital subject areas including economics, politics, history and geography.

Professor Paul White, pro-vice-chancellor for teaching and learning, told a postgraduate awards ceremony that undergraduate courses in social sciences faced receiving no government funding at all, under recommendations in last year's Browne Report.

"All these subjects are concerned with seeking solutions to immediate issues and problems in society, whether at the individual level or at a wider scale," he said.

"And all these departments and the work they do are in some ways under attack.

"Instead, priority areas for funding should be, the report says, courses in science and technology subjects, clinical medicine, nursing and other health care degrees, as well as strategically important language courses."

He said funds were being targeted at courses supposedly benefiting the public interest because graduates in social sciences benefited more from having wider skills and knowledge than society as a whole.

"I will add that this is a view that is not shared in the vast majority of other countries where an education in the social sciences remains funded and valued by governments," he said.

He said recent challenges in the field had included the Sharon Matthews and Baby P cases, the crisis of the banks and the challenges to the global financial system, the halting of growth in the UK housing market and increased ethnic tension in cities in a number of countries.

"Is there no benefit in having qualified social scientists to provide a commentary on these issues?" Prof White said.

"Does society not need local economic and regional analysts to guide us through regeneration?

"Do we not need information scientists to organise and guide us through the plethora of often conflicting material to inform our decision-making?

"Is there no public interest in having lawyers who can maintain systems of justice for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole?"

The professor also called on the postgraduates to defend the social sciences and to take their arguments to the wider public.

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