Research funding is going through a period of rapid, positive and potentially far-reaching change. Many of these changes relate to the creation of UKRI and the introduction of a number of significant new research funds. The new funds provide huge opportunities for social scientists. However, there will also be challenges, and researchers will need to work in rigorous and innovative ways to exploit the opportunities that arise.

Social science has a leading role to play in the new funds, and it’s vital that social scientists have a good understanding of the funds and how they can get involved in them. A good starting point is to read UKRI’s Strategic Prospectus which outlines how UKRI will create a research and innovation system that is equipped to tackle major environmental, social and economic challenges.

Social science is central to the new funds

Social science research has already received significant funding through the new research funds, for example:

  • we have commissioned research collaborations with 10 partner countries through the Newton Fund, including India (£8 million), South Africa (£7.5 million), Brazil (£5.4 million), China (£5 million) and Mexico (£3.2 million)
  • the Talent Fund has already funded over 100 new ESRC studentships and 14 fellowships
  • we have allocated £45 million to research activities under the Global Challenges Research Fund to date.

The funds will provide a wealth of additional opportunities across the breadth of the social science disciplines.

Responding to new opportunities

The social science community must be able to respond quickly and decisively to new funding opportunities. A key challenge is the pace at which the new opportunities are being announced and the relatively tight application deadlines that are often associated with them. Agility is required from institutions and researchers in order to respond confidently and actively to relevant opportunities.

New ways of working

The funds and their associated funding opportunities are multidisciplinary, and are relevant to all social science disciplines. Social sciences have a key role to play in the broad and deep research that will be funded, but researchers may have to look beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries to take advantage of the opportunities on offer. Some of the opportunities might come in unexpected places, and it's important that researchers are open about looking widely for opportunities in the new funds.

Not all of the funding opportunities that are relevant to social scientists will be led by ESRC. It's therefore important that researchers and institutions develop a good cross-UKRI and cross-discipline awareness. For example, you could monitor the UKRI funding opportunities and UKRI Twitter account to keep track of new opportunities. Some of the opportunities might also involve working with non-traditional research partners, such as businesses and researchers in other countries.

Due to the multidisciplinary nature of the new funding opportunities, social scientists must be prepared to work in partnership with researchers from other disciplines and organisations. Effective collaboration is vital, and it would be beneficial to start building relationships with potential research partners in advance of any potential funding opportunities.

Having well-formed research ideas prepared in advance will also help researchers respond effectively to relevant opportunities as they arise. You may want to develop your own 'ideas pipeline' as an individual or in conjunction with other potential research partners.

Resources to help you

It's crucial that social science researchers not only understand the dynamics of the new funding landscape but also commit to being key participants in it. To help with this, we will provide clear information and guidance on specific funding streams and strategic developments. 

Strategic developments

There are a number of ESRC strategic developments that help underpin our capability and funding. Our current strategic developments include:

Specific opportunities

We have produced a set of guidance notes to help you navigate and benefit from the new funds: