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Who funds social work research?

Government bodies

In the light of what has been said above it is not surprising that the largest funder of social sciences research in the UK are the Higher Education Funding Councils (HEFC). These are government bodies (with separate offices for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) who are responsible for funding universities. They fund research in a variety of ways:

  1. By paying the salaries of academic staff who are expected to undertake research as part of their overall contract. Staff in social work departments may want to work in collaboration with agency staff and users in order to carry out research. In many areas there are committees of staff from social work organisations and higher education institutions which meet to discuss research priorities and activities.
  2. By making a direct payment to university departments for research activity. A periodic review (the Research Assessment Exercise) of research in universities is undertaken (see Hero website). Each university department is graded on the outcome of their research over a specific period. The higher the overall grade given to the university, the greater its financial reward. This money is then available to support the research activities of the departments. Mike Fisher has provided an excellent account of this process for social work in Bob Broad's edited collection The Politics of Social Work Research. An overview report of the 2001 RAE related to social work research provides useful information (see list of reports at
  3. By funding learning and teaching initiatives, which relate to all subjects including social work departments can bid.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funds research specifically in the social sciences. It does so by funding a range of activities within thematic priorities (such as social stability and exclusion) including:

  • Research Centres, Groups (e.g. Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford)
  • Research Programmes
  • Research Resource and Facility Projects
  • Priority Networks
  • Research Grant Projects
  • Students under the category of Social Policy, Social Work and Health Studies to undertake research leading to the award of a PhD.

In recent years the ESRC has placed emphasis on ‘user' involvement in research. This usually refers to partnership with agencies or organisations, but social work academics have also been pressing the ESRC to recognise service user perspectives in research.

The Department of Health is also a major source of funding for research in health and social care. The DoH has supported the former Centre for Evidence Based Research in Social Services (CEBSS) at the University of Exeter. In 2003 CEBSS joined the Peninsula Medical School (Institute of Health and Social Care). Initially with 16 Social Services Departments as member authorities, CEBSS expanded to include Worcestershire, Coventry and the Family Welfare Association (London). It's resources have now been taken over by research in practice.

Social Service Departments often commission research from universities or other research organisations or individuals, or make small sums of money available for staff to undertake research (often assisted by their own Research and Information units).

Charities and voluntary organisations

There are many charities and voluntary organisations that fund research in social sciences but fewer who give specific funding to social work and social care. Some, for example the Leverhulme Trust, explicitly exclude social work saying that it is not research but social action. Generally there are not large sums of money available for social work and social care research but a major source of charitable funding is the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) whicho have both priority themes and support more general applications for funding. JRF insist on user involvement research in the widest sense. Other social science based charities include the Nuffield Foundation and the King's Fund (although this has a health focus), while charities such as Barnado's, NSPCC and Rethink will support research which focuses on improving practice.

European Union

The European Union (EU) supports research mainly through the Commission. The application process to its programmes is complex. Often monies have to be raised to match the funding provided by the Commission.

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