Pilot phase project of the Centre for Advanced Study Sofia, 2019-2022,
supported by the Centre for Culture and Governance in Europe, University of St. Gallen.
The social sciences and humanities (SSH) in many parts of Europe have been experiencing serious difficulties over the past decades – at the level of both secondary and tertiary education, in terms of sustainable career prospects as well as growth of research opportunities. A major factor feeding into these developments is the chronic underfunding of the field – a trend common to many European states, one that follows the growing global appetite for STEM instead of SSH-oriented curricula, which in turn responds better to economic growth and labour market needs. In many countries this diminishes the incentives among students to enrol, even less pursue an academic career, in SSH, whereas in Southeast and Central Europe it boosts the rates of academic emigration instead: scholars with stronger SSH records find less and less motivation and/or enough opportunities to seek career development at home. Accordingly, the overall quality of local academic environments deteriorates, as there remain fewer professionals to contribute to its advancement. This is a vicious circle indeed: underfunding and depressed research environment lead to increased de-motivation and emigration, which affects negatively the quality of academic output, which then brings more underfunding and less incentive to pursue academic career. In brief, the social sciences and humanities are facing a complex challenge, the successful overcoming of which may be decisive for their health in the mid to long-term future.
Evaluation systems and potential flaws
This project builds on the hypothesis that the variety of local SSH evaluation systems and, most importantly, performance-based funding mechanisms harmonised with the systems in question operate as a hidden, yet very substantial, factor underlying these negative trends. Thus, very often there is a lack of sufficient separation between STEM- and SSH-related criterial sets; the overemphasis on scientometrics based on commercial services such as Scopus or Web of Science has been pushed to the limits of a significant or full exclusion of non-English language publications; functional criteria filters for publications in languages other than English or for specific academic genres (such as academic translations, critical primary source editions, etc.) may be lacking altogether. We suggest that identifying these and other potential flaws would be a major step towards improving the global health of Europe’s SSH.
To accomplish this task, we propose to:
(1) Provide a detailed comparative analysis of the current evaluation policies in both minor and major non-English-speaking countries (a) such as e.g. Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, Slovenia, the Baltic States, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary, as well as (b) those somewhat better positioned with regard to research funding, such as e.g. Holland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and juxtapose these with the situation in countries like Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and Spain.
(2) Identify and examine in detail the specific financial mechanisms in charge of SSH funding, i.e. the normative documents and guidelines providing strict criteria sets and/or even precise mathematical formulae used as technical means for performance-based SSH budget calculations.
(3) Align the best practices in (1) and (2) above and, hence, devise improved or alternative evaluation matrices which allow for better linguistic representation and provide appropriate quality filters for research in the field.
Depending on the findings following each one of these three stages, we expect to be able to outline performance-based funding approaches which are both more balanced and healthier in view of the specifics of SSH research.
Upon successful completion, the project will provide:
- A detailed web-based interactive map of SSH evaluation criteria and performance-based funding mechanisms across Europe’s non-English-speaking countries. Further on,
- This will facilitate the completion of an extensive pack of specific policy support guidelines – ones that secure a brighter, more inclusive and fertile SSH future. On the solid basis of all this, we expect
- To build a dynamic primary network of scholars across the Continent to facilitate, later on, the launch of a grander initiative: an EC-funded permanent European SSH Evaluation Observatory with the primary task of regularly updating the ‘map’ of SSH funding in diverse corners of Europe. We believe this will prove to be of vital benefit to research networks, teams, and institutions across the Continent.