ISER is 20

ISER Building ISER is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Its birthday celebration coincides with the opening day of the BHPS Conference, a fitting reminder of how the Institute came about.

In 1988, a multidisciplinary group at Essex had the idea that Britain needed a household panel survey like the US Panel Study of Income Dynamics and successfully applied to the ESRC for funds for an Interdisciplinary Research Centre to host this new study. On 1 April 1989, the Research Centre on Micro-Social Change (MiSoC) came into being, with Tony Coxon as inaugural director. Wave 1 of the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) began in September 1991. David Rose was acting Director until the appointment of Jonathan Gershuny in July 1993.

After a successful ESRC review in 1994, the centre’s contract was renewed for a further five years, and three new professors, Alison Booth, Stephen Jenkins and John Ermisch, were funded by the University. By the time progress was reviewed again, the ESRC had changed its funding structures, distinguishing between resource and research centres. From 1999, BHPS and related longitudinal survey activities were funded through the new United Kingdom Longitudinal Studies Centre (ULSC), while research activities were largely supported through MiSoC. Both centres received a further five years funding in 2004 after external review and competition.

The Institute for Social and Economic Research is the umbrella organisation established in 1999 to house the two ESRC centres, together with other activities which have grown substantially. These other activities include teaching and training. In 2001, ISER established joint Masters programmes with the Departments of Economics and Sociology; today these programmes have a large allocation of ESRC ‘1+3’ quota studentships. PhD student numbers have grown from a handful to 25. ISER continues to receive a large flow of visitors through our EU-funded European Centre for the Analysis in the Social Sciences (ECASS).

New research programmes have developed alongside our traditional strengths. Work on time use, supported by a large ESRC grant, was led by Jonathan Gershuny until his departure to Oxford in 2006. A more contemporary example is tax-benefit microsimulation modelling for European countries, which receives substantial funding from the European Commission. Euromod’s cross-national comparative research activities are now being complemented by our new ESRC-funded work on Analysis of Life Chances in Europe (ALICE).

A research area that will develop significantly over the next few years is health and health inequalities. Although the ESRC continues to be ISER’s largest single funder, the Institute receives project funding from government departments, agencies such as the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, and charitable foundations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust and the Nuffield Foundation.

ISER maintains links with the private sector through the Future Foundation, and with a variety of third sector organisations ranging from One Parent Families–Gingerbread to the Runnymede Trust. All our work continues to be underpinned by complementary survey and research activities, and we continue to receive substantial recognition. In 2006, a successful bid was made to the ESRC to provide the Scientific Leadership team for the Understanding Society household panel study. Interviewing for the first wave of the study began in January 2009. Over the last year funding has also been secured for MiSoC for the period 2009–14.

In the recent Research Assessment Exercise, ISER contributed staff to the university’s units of assessment in ‘Sociology’ and ‘Economics and Econometrics’, which were nationally rated first equal and third equal respectively.


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