The Economic and Social Research Council is the UK's leading agency for funding social science research and training. Their mission is to advance knowledge in almost all areas of human and social activity and to promote its use to increase the quality of life, the development of policy and practice, and economic competitiveness in the UK. The Council aspires to the three principles of Quality, Relevance and Independence to guide all its work. Together they define ESRC's distinctive role as a research funding body.
The Council's role is:
- to promote and support, by any means, high quality basic, strategic and applied research and related postgraduate training in the social sciences;
- to advance knowledge and provide trained social scientists who meet the needs of users and beneficiaries, thereby contributing to the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom, the effectiveness of public services and policy, and the quality of life
- to provide advice on, and disseminate knowledge and promote public understanding of the social sciences.
The four core strategic objectives are:
- to focus social science research on scientific and national priorities
- to enhance the capacity for the highest quality in social science research
- to increase the impact of ESRC's research on policy and practice
- to deliver ESRC's activities effectively and efficiently.
ESRC is a non-departmental public body principally funded through the Science Budget by the Department of Trade and Industry through the Office of Science and Technology. It is one of seven research councils. They are governed by a Council whose main responsibilities are setting policy and identifying the Thematic Priorities. The Council is supported and advised by various boards, committees and groups.
Through extensive consultation, seven areas are identified of major scientific and national importance which demand quality social science research. These Thematic Priorities range from economic performance to social exclusion. They provide a focus for some of the research activities.
The Council's strategy of enhancing the UK social science base is delivered by boards responsible for research priorities, resources, grants and training.
Nearly two-thirds of the budget (£59 million in 2002-03) is allocated to research and just under one-third (£24 million in 2002-03) to postgraduate training.
Research: there are three main funding schemes: research centres, research programmes and research grants. In any year ESRC support 26 major centres and 25 or so research programmes, each of the latter comprising between 20-30 inter-linked projects.
Training: ESRC maintains more than 2,000 students every year across 16 subject areas. They offer collaborative studentships with over 60 private, public and voluntary sector organisations.
The ESRC, as with the other government research councils, funds research in universities and higher education institutes alongside the main funding streams made available by the Higher Education Funding Councils - HEFCs (for England, Scotland, Wales) and - in Northern Ireland - the Department for Education Northern Ireland.