Social sciences and humanities address Europe's social challenges

What are the key themes in the social sciences and humanities that warrant EU funding? This was the question addressed by deans from 21 European research universities who met on 21 March in Leiden.

LERU members

Van den Doel (with the red tie) together with his European colleagues

Van den Doel (with the red tie) together with his European colleagues

All the deans were from universities that are members of the League of European Research Universities (LERU). Europe's top universities work together within the LERU to form a united front in promoting university research. The meeting was prompted by the EU's draft programme for research subsidies: ‘Horizon 2020’. With an expected budget of 70 billion euros, this is the world's biggest research funding programme. For the Netherlands, Horizon 2020 can provide an annual research budget of between 700 and 800  million euros; by comparison, the NWO, that provides second flow of funding in the Netherlands, has a budget for funding of less than 400 million euros per year.  

No dedicated budget for social sciences and humanities

Horizon 2020 will provide funding for social sciences and humanities via the successful European Research Council (ERC), although there are no provisions for a separate budget for the so-called 'societal challenges' This was met with widespread complaints in Europe, but the LERU decided to regard it as a challenge and to take action themselves. In a document sent to the EU on behalf of the LERU, Wim van den Doel, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, sets out the great significance of the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) for European society and for research in the context of social challenges. He emphasises the importance of the ERC and Marie Curie programmes for SSH: these two programmes fund excellent research in Europe.

Successful lobby

This approach by the LERU was successful. The major significance of SSH for European society was recognised, including by Robert-Jan Smits, Director General for Research and Innovation at the European Commission, during a meeting of the European Parliament. He subsequently invited the LERU to make a further contribution to strengthening the position of SSH on the European research agenda. The LERU's SSH deans took up the challenge and are now writing separate memoranda on the question of how SSH research can contribute to the different social challenges identified by the EU. The first of these memoranda has already been published. The remaining memoranda were discussed on 21 March in Leiden.

Constructive atmosphere

'What particularly struck me in the meeting with the LERU deans was how constructive the atmosphere was,' commented Van den Doel. ‘Everyone is working to find an innovative way of securing a place for the social sciences and humanities on the European research agenda; we want to make sure we make use of all the opportunities available. Each of the deans represents a top academic institution and is therefore able to contribute the knowledge and expertise of leading researchers. This approach means you can achieve a lot in a short time.'

(22 March 2013)

The six social challenges in Horizon 2020 are: 

  • Climate action, resource efficiency and raw materials  

  • Secure, clean and efficient energy 

  • Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime research and the bio-economy  

  • Health, demographic change and wellbeing  

  • Inclusive, innovative and secure societies

  • Smart, green and integrated transport

See also

Studying in Leiden


Master 's

Last Modified: 18-04-2013