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UK Data Service receives new ESRC investment of £37.5m, funding research infrastructure to 2030

The award represents the continued recognition by UKRI of the integral infrastructure the UK Data Service provides for effective research, policy development and impact for public benefit.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has sealed its commitment to the collection of and provision of access to social science data, by awarding the UK Data Service £37.5 million, funding its work for the next six years.

The UK Data Service continues to underpin the research and innovation ecosystem, enabling evidence-led research with data and computation. ESRC Executive Chair, Stian Westlake, said:

“The UK Data Service is an international leader in the technical development of digital standards, data curation, research data management, data-skills training and impact.  It is a vital part of the UK’s research infrastructure, and supports users from 146 countries.”

Commenting on the award and the UK Data Service’s pioneering work in the field of data curation and long-term access to high quality data, Dr Victoria Moody, Senior Leadership Group, UK Data Service, said:

“The UK Data Service is a core part of the development of exemplars for the UK’s digital research infrastructure, driving standards and demonstrating impact for the benefit of partner data services in the UK and internationally.”

Award enables commitment to long-term research access

This funding boost for the UK Data Service will:

  • Ensure continued access to more than 9,000 high quality economic, social research and population datasets.
  • Secure the longevity and sustainability of many of the UK’s most critical national data resources, including the Census, Understanding Society and the Labour Force Survey.
  • Support the existing partners who collaborate and provide the world-class expertise that is at the heart of the UK Data Service.

Noting the widespread impact of the UK Data Service within the social scientific community, Professor Debora Price, Senior Leadership Group, UK Data Service said:

“There is barely a quantitative social scientist in the UK who has not used the Data Service for research or training. This award is fantastic news, ensuring that our highly skilled team can continue our work for years to come in an ever-changing and rapidly evolving data landscape.”

UK Data Service providing research access to key longitudinal study

Understanding Society, the country’s largest longitudinal household panel study, has also received further investment from the ESRC, to the tune of £100 million. The collected data cover a wide range of key social topics, and are available for download via the UK Data Service. Understanding Society: Waves 1-10, 2009-2019 and Harmonised BHPS: Waves 1-18, 1991-2009 was the Service’s most downloaded study between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2022, with special Understanding Society studies on Covid-19 following behind in second and third place.

Evidence-led policy change

During the pandemic the UK Data Service curated critical data from the ESRC funded Institute for Social and Economic Research (home of Understanding Society) within two months of the UK lockdown, enabling rapid research and evidence-led policy development at a national level.

Data from the Understanding Society survey was then used by HM Treasury, Public Health England, SAGE and other NGOs and charities to analyse the economic impact of COVID-19 on household incomes; advise the government on improving vaccine take-up in ethnic minority groups; assess the impact of school closures on children; and investigate how furlough protected household incomes.

Throughout the pandemic, over 130,000 datasets were downloaded through the UK Data Service by researchers in the UK alone. The swift process and release of new data meant that the UK Data Service enabled rapid research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, National Voices and The Lancet, among other leading research organisations and publications, to highlight growing inequalities and critical challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.

Policy-makers value data-driven research

Science Minister George Freeman commented on the investment in both the UK Data Service and Understanding Society:

“Understanding how the UK lives and changes over time is key to ensuring services like healthcare, transport and education best serve the public and that hardworking taxpayers’ money is spent wisely.

“By investing £138 million towards continued gathering of key household data, we are enabling decision-making that benefits us all while laying the groundwork for new discoveries that enhance our lives.”

University of Essex Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster said: “Data-driven social science research is addressing the greatest global challenges of our time, so we are delighted with this major investment in Understanding Society and the UK Data Service. Our highly-trusted status in collecting, storing, analysing and sharing data has helped Essex make it the world-leading social science university it is today.”