From education to employment

ESRC Sees FE Students Listen to “Voice” Worth £100 Million

In light of the recent debacle concerning pay structures, social science students in FE colleges can find solace in the fact that they have already been granted over £100 million in funds ““ through the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

With the aftermath of two destructive world wars plaguing human consciousness, the ESRC origins hinged on the premise that such a body should exist, in order to achieve the changes in society that were clearly required. Founded under the Royal Charter in 1965, the ESRC’s website (to visit the ESRC please click here) provides high quality research on “issues of importance to business, the public sector and government.” Offering an unrivalled pool of socio-economic resources, ESRC Society Today provides information on a range of issues, including economics, social stability, the environment, citizenship and human behaviour.

A Roaring Success

Publicly launched at the end of March 2005, to date the site has enjoyed a colossal hit count of 30 million. ESRC editor Cormac Connolly explains his vision: “The whole idea is to give social science a voice. Previously we had the ESRC Awards and Outputs database, the “Regard” site, which was followed by loads of individual websites concerning individual assessments. Our site pulls all this content together and so aggregately, we have all the individual research items conveniently in one place.”

And yet, even as the site still enjoys a mammoth hit count, Cormac recalls the early teething problems encountered when addressing a project of such magnitude. “There have been more than a few challenges definitely. For example, when you place a new chunk of software into the mix for a new project, you are always going to have a learning curve, especially with the technology we were using. However, with that technology and the trials we experienced, positively, we are able to maximise the leverage, thereby enhancing the features of the site.”

The Software to Support Success

One of the aforementioned key features is the “Autonomy” software. Capable of understanding topics as well as simply key words, the program identifies the essence of a news or research article. Material is systematically scanned respective to the search criteria, and the software picks up issue related responses. A technological incarnation of osmosis then occurs, by which results are fed back to the user through strings of sentences and paragraphs in standardised English.

“On the one hand, people looking for funding for research at their level can ascertain what kind of research has already been completed in their field. Our site actually allows an almost serendipity effect because we harness research from other sites”, explains Cormac.

Vijay Pattni

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