MTA Law Working Papers


Körtvélyesi Zsolt: Funding social science in international comparison

The paper contributes to the debates around funding scientific research by analyzing recent international trends, and show funding patterns from the perspective of funds devoted to social sciences. It is mostly a groundwork summarizing the key issues around the definition of scientific fields, the various statistics and the considerations behind policy decisions to fund research. The first part of the paper looks into the problems of categorizations, showing how interdisciplinarity and convergence might blur the seemingly well-established boundaries. The second part looks into datasets available on funding, and presents data on sector-based variations. As funding from business enterprises disproportionately favor certain (non-social sciences) fields, the share of the business sector might have a direct impact on social sciences spending. From the somewhat sporadic data that is available at this level of specificity, this connection can be confirmed. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that more business funding is, in absolute numbers, bad for social sciences funding. While social sciences might be on the losing side if compared to natural sciences, in competition for business funding, the boost that more business funding gives to research funding in general also shows in social sciences funding, if measured in percentage of the GDP. The paper continues with assessing recent datasets on specific (public) funding bodies. This seems to show the predefined preference of these entities rather than general trends. Looking into the arguments behind such policy choices, the final chapter deals with the question of the ‘use’, ‘output’ or ‘impact’ of scientific research, and social sciences in particular. Without providing final answers, the paper concludes by noting that decisions about allocation are inherently linked to policy choices about funding preferences. This in turn highlights the importance of informed decisions. A further line of inquiry should assess the decisions of public funding bodies, how they allocate funds on this higher level and what are the relevant factors informing these decisions. The final section of the paper presents the UK experience as a model that combines various forms of assessment and that could inform policy decisions elsewhere.