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Exeter part of £19.5 million overhaul of quantitative social science training

The University of Exeter is one of 15 universities across the UK to benefit from the £19.5 million award to overhaul teaching in the social sciences. This intervention is being brought about 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). This ambitious intervention is one of the largest partnerships in recent times – between a research council, a funding council and a private foundation – focussed on undergraduate social science education in the UK.

A network of ‘Q-Step Centres’, delivering new undergraduate programmes in quantitative social science will be formed by the host universities. 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.

Exeter will focus on employability including guaranteed work placements on new BSc and Masters courses, with a bursary of up to £1,500 in addition to creating new BSc degrees with emphasis on applied data analysis in: Sociology, Criminology, and Politics and International Relations. There will also be a new Masters in Political Research with Applied Data Analysis, a proficiency in Applied Data Analysis add-on to other degrees, bursaries for vacation summer training and a Masters which prepares students for a PhD programme in Advanced Quantitative Methods. 

Professor Janice Kay, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) said: “We are pleased to see a Q-Step Centre at Exeter. The centre will promote research-led teaching, engage students in the research process, train them in quantitative research skills desired by employers and enhance employability through industry experience. The selection of Exeter by Nuffield, the ESRC and Hefce to host one of the centres recognises the quality of the social sciences at Exeter in terms of research and teaching and on-going investment in an excellent student experience.”

In today’s world of easily accessible data driven by the internet andsocial media, data analytics is an exciting area according to Professor Susan Banducci, a politics lecturer at the University of Exeter and the Director of the Exeter Q-Step Centre.  She said: “From data visualisation in word clouds, to mapping friendships networks on Facebook – all of this reflects ‘big social data’. Students need to be equipped to understand and to critically engage with data.Most students in Politics and Sociology and other similar social sciences might shy away from numbers. Think about Moneyball, Freakonomics, Nate Silver and his election forecasting – data analytics is everywhere. The funding gives us a terrific opportunity to take advantage of the emergence of new sources of data, innovate in teaching of social science methods and deliver a fun and challenging curriculum to our students.”

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.

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.”

Professor Banducci added:“It has been my experience as a lecturer that those students who engage with empirical and quantitative research, for example, conducting their own surveys and learning key social science data analysis software go on to get very good jobs. It just gives someone an edge to be able to demonstrate they understand the research process and can examine quantitative data.”

The universities receiving Q-Step awards are: University of Bristol, Cardiff University, City University London, University of Edinburgh, University of Exeter, University of Glasgow, University of Kent, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Manchester, University of Oxford, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Sheffield, University of St Andrews, University College London and the University of Warwick.

A total of 53 new full time posts will be created in UK universities as a result of the programme and Q-Step Centres will begin planning and rolling out their programme of activities in October 2013.

Find out more.


Date: 3 October 2013

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