We began in 1965 as the Social Science Research Council and held our first formal council meeting in January 1966. Our early structure consisted of social science committees that covered 14 disciplines, ranging from anthropology to statistics. 

In 1982 the Rothschild review recommended greater focus on empirical research and research related to public concerns. From 1983 we became the Economic and Social Research Council. Our new structure consisted of committees that addressed six areas: economic affairs, education and human development, environment and planning, government and law, industry and employment, and social affairs.

We were granted Royal Charter in 1965 as the Social Science Research Council. The charter was amended three times - in 1973, in 1983 when we became ESRC, and finally in 1994.

The quality and success of postgraduate training became a major issue during the 1980s. In 1989 we introduced formal postgraduate training guidelines. In 2010 we established a new national network of 21 institutional and consortia level Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs) through which we deliver all our studentship funding. Our DTCs cover the full disciplinary range of the social sciences as well as areas of interdisciplinary research.

During the 1990s, we developed our thematic priorities to focus research on scientific and national priorities. These were later replaced and our priorities were defined in an extensive strategic review that was carried out in 2005. Our current strategic priorities were introduced in 2011.

In July 2014 we launched a consultation to inform our future strategic direction. This informed the development of our latest Strategic Plan, which was published in January 2015.

In April 2018, ESRC became part of UK Research and Innovation, a new organisation that brings together the UK’s seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England to maximise the contribution of each council and create the best environment for research and innovation to flourish.

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