ESRC/SFC Scoping Study into Quantitative Methods Capacity Building in Scotland
Coxon, Anthony P.M.
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There has been widespread concern about a UK-wide deficit in quantitative skills amongst social scientists since the 1960s, especially in relation to the rapid pace of change within the industry and the lack of adequately trained computing scientists. • Despite experiencing a relatively industrious period in the late 1960s and 1970s, Scotland’s provision of quantitative methods within social science is now extremely patchy and as bad, if not worse, than that in the rest of the UK. • Scotland has a similar demographic profile to the rest of the UK in terms of social sciences; but Scottish Higher Educational Institutions (HEI) are under-represented in other respects (e.g. representation at the Essex Summer School). • In Scotland, disciplines such as Economics, Accountancy, Business Studies and Psychology, which already have a quantitative reputation, have better resources for assessment, training and improvement of mathematical, statistical and general quantitative skills of their graduate students than other disciplines. • Undergraduate courses are mainly focused around generic rather than specialised quantitative methods teaching, although there is more specialist provision at postgraduate level, but this again is centred around the ‘usual’ disciplines. • Most teaching and research involves fairly general methods and statistical techniques, although there are a few people experienced in more ‘advanced’ methods. There is a widespread need for continuing professional development training in Scotland across all sectors, mainly at the more advanced level. There are a few, small-scale centres of expertise in Scotland, but most quantitative researchers are spread across a range of institutions and disciplines. There are no large-scale networks or centres, and this is viewed as key to building capacity. • There are three general barriers to developing quantitative methods capacity in Scotland. In order of importance, these are ‘antipathy’ (reluctance by students, staff and HEI colleagues to engage with quantitative methods); ‘accessibility’ (availability of/time for training); and ‘enabling’ (lack of funding, collaborative opportunities and data access). • Scotland is a relatively ‘data rich’ country, with a proliferation in recent years of Government funded surveys. However, self-reported usage of Scottish datasets is low and there is a general failure to make the most of available data in Scotland. • Computing and library support services are not well tuned to the needs of quantitative capacity building. Basic levels of support, such as finding resources on the web and offering assistance to access these, are provided; however, students get little extensive user support or instruction in use of datasets and staff do not get support for statistical consultancy or teaching data analysis skills in computer labs. Greater communication and collaboration between support and research staff is needed. • There is support in Scotland for a long-term, strategic approach to building capacity and there are good reasons for developing a specifically Scottish strategy. • A national strategy must include a variety of activities at a range of different levels, such as: boosting numeracy in secondary schools; better engagement with both undergraduate and graduate students; strengthening links between academia and potential employers; more training through continuing professional development; and mentoring for early career researchers. Boosting capacity will require cultural and structural changes within many institutions and disciplinary areas. Universities and funding bodies must provide strategic investment in order to build a strong infrastructure capable of supporting a critical mass of quantitative trained researchers in Scotland. The recommendations from this study include creating a Scottish Centre for Social Science Research Methods and establishing a Scottish Summer School.