Skip to main content

Big data gets big numbers at Warwick

The University of Warwick is part of a new £19.5 million programme to transform social science teaching in the UK.

Warwick is one of 15 universities across the UK to get a share of the grant and will receive £1.34 million. The ‘Q-Step’ programme is an ambitious intervention to address the critical shortage of social scientists with the quantitative skills needed to evaluate evidence and analyse big data.

The universities have all been selected to host ‘Q-Step’, a programme designed to promote a step-change in quantitative social science training, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). This is one of the largest partnerships in recent times – between a research council, a funding council and a private foundation – focussed on undergraduate social science education in the UK.

The 15 universities, selected from a total of 48 who applied, will form a network of ‘Q-Step Centres’, delivering new undergraduate programmes in quantitative social science. These will include the development of new courses, production of new content for existing courses, experimenting with new ways of teaching, as well as work placements and pathways to postgraduate study.

Dr Emma Uprichard is leading the programme for the University of Warwick.

She said: “Q-Step Warwick will position Warwick globally as one of the leading universities of the digital age. By setting up new degrees in Sociology, and Politics and International Studies, Q-Step Warwick plans to redress the UK’s skills deficit and to help position the UK as a global leader in the social sciences as they respond to the opportunity to improve the human condition offered by advanced quantitative data analysis. .

“Preparing students to work in ways that help them to understand, participate and intervene in a data-driven digital society lies at the heart of the exciting programme of activities we have organised.”

The programme will bring together teaching from across the Faculty of Social Sciences and will also encourage work with local schools with pupils and teachers to support quantitative social science career pathways.

University of Warwick Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Thrift said the grant was a great step forward for Social Sciences.

He said: “This is fantastic news, Q-Step is a very forward-looking programme and a real coup for Warwick. This programme ties in well with other Warwick initiatives looking at how we can use the vast amounts of data we produce to benefit society. Warwick’s involvement in the Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) is a great example, this project is being set up in New York and will transform the city into a living laboratory to examine how we can improve urban systems and quality of life.”

The other universities receiving Q-Step awards are: University of Bristol, Cardiff University, City University London, University of Edinburgh, University of Exeter, University of Glasgow, University of Kent, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Manchester, University of Oxford, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Sheffield, University of St Andrews, and University College London.

Support programme

Although targeted at undergraduates, Q-Step aims to promote quantitative skills training across the course of the education system, from recruitment of school students to specialist training for those going on to postgraduate work. 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.

 Selection process and timetable

 The awards have been made following an open competition, launched in October 2012. Due to the number and high standard of applications, an additional £4 million has been secured to fund more centres than originally planned, taking the total amount awarded from the £15.5 million originally budgeted to a new total of £19.5 million over five years.

Q-Step Centres will begin planning and rolling out their programme of activities in October 2013.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:

“Evaluating and analysing data is an essential part of science education and we need more people with these important skills. 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.”

 Sharon Witherspoon, Director of the Nuffield Foundation said:

 “The number and high standard of applications for Q-Step funding demonstrates a shared recognition that the weakness of quantitative skills training in much social science matters – and shows there is a shared commitment to do something about it. With a network of fifteen universities across the UK, as well as an emphasis on building links with schools and employers, we now hope to build the critical mass necessary to promote a real step-change in skills over the long term.

Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the ESRC said:

 “I am delighted that ESRC will be working in partnership with The Nuffield Foundation and HEFCE in funding the Q-Step Centres. ESRC is committed to enhancing quantitative methods skills for social scientists at all stages of their careers and we believe these centres will generate new cohorts of highly skilled students. I am confident that both universities and students will benefit in the long term from the funding and support given from today.”

Chris Milward, Associate Director of HEFCE said:

 “We are pleased to support this step-change in activity, which will yield a new generation of social science graduates who are fit for the future. The centres will work closely with university outreach activities to stimulate early interest in quantitative skills. This approach builds on evidence from recent research and puts flesh on HEFCE's commitment to continue to address risks to subjects following the higher education reforms. We look forward to working with the Q-Step Centres and other institutions to extend the benefits widely across the sector.”


To speak to Dr Uprichard contact Kelly Parkes-Harrison, Press and Communications Manager, University of Warwick,, 02476 150868, 07824 540863.

To find out more about Q-Step contact: Frances Bright, Communications Manager, Nuffield Foundation on (0)20 7681 9586 or


1. A list of the fifteen universities, the disciplines included in their Q-Step programmes and their key activities is attached.

2. The Q-Step Centres were selected from a total of 48 applications by a Selection Board appointed by the funders. The Board was chaired by Professor David Rhind, Chair of the Nuffield Foundation. More information on the selection process is available on the Nuffield Foundation website.

 3. The call for applications for Q-Step funding was made in October 2012. At that time, the funding secured was £15.5 million, which has now increased to £19.5 million (£7.5 million from the Nuffield Foundation, £7 million from the ESRC and £5 million from HEFCE).

 4. The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research.

 5. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.

6. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) distributes public money for higher education to universities and colleges in England, and ensures that this money is used to deliver the greatest benefit to students and the wider public. HEFCE continues to support quantitative social science within the framework of its programme of support for subjects considered strategically important and vulnerable.




Further information

Contact Kelly Parkes-Harrison, Press and Communications Manager, University of Warwick, 02476 150868, 07824 540863,


Nuffield Foundation