Oxford University is to receive almost £1,300,000 to provide more undergraduates in social sciences the advanced quantitative skills they need to systematically analyse data.
Oxford is one of 15 universities to be selected nationally to host Q-Step, a £19.5 million programme designed to promote a step-change in quantitative social science training. The funding was awarded by a partnership comprised of the Nuffield Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).
The programme will mean the creation of four new full-time teaching posts in Oxford's Department of Politics and International Relations, and the Department of Sociology as from July 2014. It will enable undergraduates across the social sciences to have access to enhanced training in quantitative methods, through lectures and data-labs. New options in quantitative training will also be made available to undergraduates taking the PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) or the BA History and Politics course. Hands-on data labs will become a core element of the new teaching programme, allowing undergraduates the opportunity to work with datasets within the context of their disciplines.
Expertise and resources will be shared across the higher education sector through an accompanying support programme, which will also forge links with schools and employers. Students who go on work placements to develop their quantitative methods will be able to apply for bursaries through the programme. The skills training provided through Oxford's Q-Step training will be shared widely, with the University of Oxford hosting summer schools about quantitative methods for undergraduates from other UK universities. Oxford academics will also develop open access online teaching materials about quantitative methods for wider audiences.
Stephen Whitefield, Head of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, said: 'Political scientists often use large data sets and sophisticated statistical models so it is very difficult, if not impossible, these days for undergraduates to understand and critically engage with what they are reading in many areas of the discipline without having a solid quantitative training. The funding will not only enhance the skills of students of Oxford but also bring wider benefits through summer schools for students from other UK universities and our online teaching materials.'
Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts MP, said: 'Q-Step will deliver an exciting programme, increasing the number of skilled graduates in quantitative social science. By sharing expertise and resources across the education sector, this programme is a step in the right direction to give students the skills they need and help employers build long lasting relationships with universities.'
Oxford already has a Research Methods Hub, part of the division's doctoral training provision, which brings together a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods courses available to research students across the social sciences. The Hub builds on the established courses introduced by the interdisciplinary Centre for Research Methods in the social sciences, founded by Professor Geoffrey Evans of the Department of Politics and International Relations and Sociology in 2004. Quantitative methods course providers in the Hub have been recipients of teaching excellence awards and in some cases hold major international reputations in the area of social statistics. The Hub serves all of the disciplines in the social sciences, psychology and history.