PART I: How can funders and institutions better acknowledge the challenges for Social Sciences and Humanities in Southern and Central & Eastern Europe?

1. Recognise the crucial value SSH offers for improved policy and decision-making in SE and CEE contexts

Contemporary societal challenges are not only technical, but also deeply political and socio-cultural. The value of SSH insights in addressing the Cluster 5 challenges of Horizon Europe (climate, energy, and mobility) is clear. For instance, how people think, act, work and play – and thereby consume energy- and carbon-intensive resources – are inherently social issues. However, in SE and CEE contexts in particular, SSH research (with the exception of Economics, as repeatedly stated in our survey) continues to be judged as having less policy and innovation value than STEM. In order for the unique offerings of SSH research to be recognised – such as its conceptual and methodological pluralism, its critical approach, and its ability to highlight assumptions underlying numerical results – they need to be promoted and mainstreamed in policy and decision-making at EU, national and local levels.

2. Acknowledge the wide variety of research and institutional cultures across Europe: “one size does not fit all”

When Northern Europe (NE) and Western Europe (WE) ways of conducting science and social science are promoted as the ‘right ways’, this reproduces and perpetuates existing inequalities. Research carried out in SE and CEE has specificities tied to national, regional and local geographies (e.g. heat waves, wildfires, displacement, migration), as well as cultural and socioeconomic contexts (e.g. unemployment, levels of inequality, poverty) that may need to be justified for a wider audience who are less unfamiliar with them. The greater value placed on NE/WE research experiences is also reproduced within national SE/CEE institutions. For example, research visits to NE/WE institutions may be seen as a prerequisite to career progression in SE. Conversely, lack of mobility to SE/CEE also means fewer possibilities for other scholars to learn about research cultures there.

3. Identify and work to overcome precarious working conditions in SE/CEE research institutions

Precarious working conditions, which researchers in SE/CEE are particularly vulnerable to, are currently one of the foremost systemic challenges in the European research sector. This is reflected in institutional setups through the prevalence of temporary contracts in SE, and very low academic salaries in CEE (comparatively). In SE, a lack of permanent staff can lead to individuals being overloaded with educational and organisational duties reinforcing job insecurity and decreasing capacity for applying to funding calls. Moreover, this situation is coupled with the occasional presence of clientelism, nepotism (or even corruption) which hinders access to public research funds, meaning researchers may not be competing on a level playing field. This leads to researchers having limited time to compete for a small pool of national/international research funding leading to low rates of success, especially in undervalued SSH disciplines and underfunded SSH project calls.