PART III: How can research institutions better support SSH in Southern and Central & Eastern Europe?

8. Encourage collaborative SSH-STEM teams and networking across SE/CEE countries

Instead of only focussing on individual competition, it is vital that collaborative and interdisciplinary working schemes are promoted (including collaboration both across SSH, and across the SSH-STEM divide) in SE/CEE countries to address historical imbalances and division between SSH and STEM. These collaborations should be fostered through networking opportunities, including virtual participation where possible which can slightly reduce the financial disadvantages SE/CEE researchers’ experience. An SSH research network association focussed on the SE/CEE region could give greater voice to these researchers at the European level.

9. Train the next generation of SSH and interdisciplinary researchers

In SE/CEE, we must create, foster, and recognise interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary degrees, including Masters and PhD programmes that seek to transcend the currently fragmented SSH vs. STEM mindset. Much like the rise of sustainability in recent decades, SSH topics could be cross-cutting requirements for all students in higher education. In the case of SSH and interdisciplinary researchers with PhD degrees, research institutions should increase their provision of free online trainings focusing on the know-how of writing research proposals or leading interdisciplinary partnerships (and paying SE/ CEE researchers who have had success in these areas to provide their insights), in order to develop greater capacity.

10. Value local talent and ensure visible profiles for SSH researchers to avoid forced mobility

Expectations around the movement of researchers to NE/WE institutions in pursuit of a more ‘successful’ career can create strong personal and institutional burdens. It also hinders researchers from developing the long-term engagement with local communities needed in SSH research. Research institutions should value their local talent and direct efforts to retain it by providing long-term stability and flexible conditions, whereby mobility is an option rather than a necessity. They should also ensure that the scientific activity and online profiles of their researchers are visible at the European level, for instance highlighting individual researcher experience in project coordination, Work Package or task leadership, media interventions, advisory roles, and/or decision making implications of their research.

11. Strengthen administrative capacity for SSH funding application and grant management processes

One of the gaps in many SE/CEE research institutions is a lack of administrative capacity (e.g. personnel number, knowledge, experience, language) to support competitive EU research applications as well as successful grant management; this further increases the already heavy burden on researchers. The administrative load for research proposals should shift in favour of scientific innovation, rigour and quality. In this area, National Contact Points have a role to play in supporting and advocating for SSH researchers. Particularly in CEE countries, a strategic priority for research institutions wanting to increase their grant success rate should be to establish teams with international experience in the administrative process of research projects.

12. Support research evaluation procedures by universities and research centres that value critical and interdisciplinarity SSH research in SE and CEE

Many SE/CEE research institutions remain bound by disciplinary silos and evaluation criteria that do not necessarily value the research strategies and practices of SSH researchers. Universities and research centres often remain focused on quantitative criteria (e.g. journal quartile, impact factor, fundraising outputs, number of PhD students) when it comes to assessing their researchers. In contrast, we call for qualitative criteria to be utilised (e.g. mentoring and community-building capacities, administrative/community service, interdisciplinarity, knowledge exchange, civic engagement) to better appreciate actual research practices of many SSH researchers.