What are the three biggest challenges Australia faces in the next five to ten years? What role will the social sciences play in solving these challenges?
The Australian Academy of Social Sciences posed these questions in a Discussion report at the beginning of this year. The backdrop for this review is cuts to social science disciplines Around the country, prioritizing teaching over research.
A Group of Eight university, for example, proposes reduce the anthropology and sociology staff from nine to one. Positions in the social sciences will be reclassified from teaching and research to teaching only.
In addition, research funding is increasingly going to applied research. The federal government wants investigations that have greater commitment to the industry and it can be shown to contribute to the national interest.
The confluence of funding changes and loss of income of international students paying fees comes on the back of other ominous long-term trends. Since the 1980s, successive federal governments have undermined perceptions of the importance of the social sciences compared to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The latest policy involves a major shift in the purpose of Australian universities: to produce “work-ready graduates”, with more emphasis on industry engagement. The restructuring of financing is touted as an investment in science. Fees have increased for social studies students.
Today’s problems require social science expertise
All of this is happening at a time, during a pandemic, when social science could not be more relevant and necessary. The challenges we face make it vital that the sciences work in partnership with the social sciences.
The pandemic has highlighted issues such as attitudes toward vaccination and behavior change, fake news and science politics, people’s vulnerability in care, the roles and responsibilities of the state and citizen, and the gender disparities from the impact of the pandemic, to name a few. To address these issues, we must understand social and cultural diversity. supporting people’s beliefs and values and how they interact during a global emergency. That is the job of social scientists.
For example, gender analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 have revealed:
- women are 22 percent more likely to lose their jobs
- 20 million girls around the world will never go back to school
- a paltry 23 percent of emergency aid goes to women’s economic security.
These impacts are likely to be long-lasting due to systemic gender inequality. But to remedy such impacts, we need to understand the context of cultural and social structures.
It is social science research that reveals how the pandemic is exacerbating the precariousness and inequality faced by women. Across the world, cultural norms restrict women’s independence and mobility and burden them with unpaid care work and unequal access to resources. Women are disproportionately concentrated in social, welfare and educational areas. sectors that have been most affected for the pandemic.
Beyond the pandemic, the social sciences equip students to tackle the complex problems we face in the 21st century. The social sciences provide the skill set to:
- understand the nature of individuals, communities and cultures (the human condition)
- Gain a broad comparative perspective on today’s world issues and concerns.
- appreciate how the crises of this century impact our way of life.
Fields of study include development studies, sustainability, anthropology, sociology, gender and race, indigenous studies, human security, political science, and economics. This makes the social sciences directly relevant to countless pressing questions. These include the pandemic and vaccinations, climate change, race and gender relations, inequality and poverty, mass migration and refugees, and authoritarianism.
Events in the news give us insight into complex social phenomena that require social science analysis to be fully understood. Examples include Black lives are important, #I also, March 4 Justice, the royal commission on elder care, community support for Tamils asylum seeker family from Biloela, and the Federal Court victory For a group of teenagers, this means that the Minister of the Environment has a duty to protect children from the harm of carbon dioxide emissions.
Anthropologists, sociologists, and political scientists provide the evidence that enables us to apply solutions to globally important problems in local settings. For example, we have the science to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and create vaccines. But how do we achieve the social and behavioral change necessary for sanitation, vaccine adoption, mask use, social distancing, etc.? In short, how do we translate that science into good public policy?
In another example, it’s one thing to understand climate science, but how do we make sure people know what they can do about it in their everyday lives? Expert analysis and translation by social scientists give us insight into why certain social changes do or do not occur.
Ready for work? Graduates in social sciences are
Social scientists may never have been in greater demand. They work in the public and private sectors, in environmental sustainability, community and international development, humanitarian and refugee agencies, health and education services, social and commercial enterprises, mineral and resource development, agriculture and land management, politics and policies. Employers value social science graduates for their analytical skills, cultural awareness, effective communication, and language skills.
In fact, graduates of the arts, humanities, and social sciences most employable than science graduates.
The pandemic should have reminded us why we need the knowledge of the social and behavioral sciences to help align human behavior with expert advice. We have become very aware that pandemics are complex social phenomena. Ditching the social sciences at this precarious moment in time is remarkably short-sighted.