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New national digital repository for social and economic data

24 Jul 2012

Continuing access to the UK’s most valuable collection of social and economic data has been secured with a £17 million investment over five years for the UK Data Service.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) the new service which will start on the 1st October 2012 is structured to support researchers in academia, business, third sector and all levels of government.

The new service will provide a unified point of access to the extensive range of high quality economic and social data, including valuable census data. It is designed to provide seamless access and support to meet the current and future research demands of both academic and non-academic users, and to help them maximise the impact of their work.

The UK Data Service will:

•    Act as a trusted national digital repository for a wide range of data providers and users
•    Provide a single point of access and support to a broad range of high-quality economic and social research data
•    Provide controlled access to sensitive and/ordisclosive data through secure settings
•    Raise the awareness of the data held by the UK Data Service among those who are not yet using the service, especially among those in business, third sector and at all levels of government
•    Extend use of its data holdings to the widest possible academic, policy and practitioner communities for generatinggreater impact
•    Develop and promote common standards and agreed strategies for data preparation, processing, documentation and preservation to promote data sharing and re-use
•    Help the  social science community to develop the skills necessary to use the data available
•    Work with a wide range of stakeholders in the UK and overseas, including data suppliers, data funders and users, Institutional Repositories and Doctoral Training Centres

“The UK Data Service represents a significant step forward in our strategy,” says ESRC’s Chief Executive, Professor Paul Boyle. “As data are the lifeblood of research, our aim is to consolidate resources in a way that expands both the reach and impact of these vital investments. It will become a cornerstone for UK research; the place to go for high quality data and support.”

The UK Data Service will be created from the integration of the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS), the Census Programme, the Secure Data Service and other elements of the data service infrastructure currently provided by the ESRC.

The integration follows an economic evaluation of ESDS, which reveals that for every pound currently invested in data and infrastructure, the service returns £5.40 in net economic value to users and other stakeholders. This compares favourably with the return on investment previously demonstrated for the British Library and for UK academic libraries in general.

“Between our services we have an impressive collection of rich research data,” says Dr Matthew Woollard, director of the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) and the UK Data Archive. “We are dedicated to the re-use, sharing and archiving of data because we know the effect it can have on the wider society. Together, we look forward to becoming the UK Data Service so we can continue to build on these excellent data and services to generate even more impact.”

The UK Data Service will be a distributed service led by Dr Matthew Woollard(University of Essex) in collaboration with deputy directors Keith Cole (University of Manchester), Professor David Martin, (University of Southampton) and Professor James Nazroo (University of Manchester). It will incorporate the new Census Support Service led by Professor John Stillwell (University of Leeds). All of the host organisations are making a significant contribution to running the new service.

The ESRC is now establishing a UK Data Service Governing Board that will have the responsibility and authority to ensure that the service is developed, managed and maintained in a manner that maximises its benefit as a long-term world class data resource. The Governing Board will be chaired by Professor Gordon Marshall, Director of Leverhulme Trust.

The ESRC is also establishing Research Support Units for the England and Wales (University of Central London), Scotland (University of St Andrews) and Northern Ireland (Queen’s University Belfast) Census Longitudinal Studies to provide expert support to research users of the Census Longitudinal Studies and to promote the studies within the academic, policy, and practitioner communities.

The UK Census Longitudinal Study Development Hub(University of St Andrews)willco-ordinate the common functions of the units and improve harmonisation across the Census Longitudinal Studies. The hub and units will also seek to promote a UK-wide Longitudinal Study, in collaboration with other stakeholders. The hub and units will start on 1 August 2012 and will be closely affiliated with the newly established UK Data Service.

Notes for editors

ESRC Press Office:

Jeanine Woolley
Telephone 01793 413119

UK Data Service:

Susan Cozzolino
Telephone 01206 872009

1.    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. More at

2.    The Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) is the UK's flagship data service for academic researchers, teachers and students. Established in 2003, ESDS now has more than 24,000 registered users. The service is jointly funded by ESRC and JISC. More at economic evaluation of the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and prepared by Charles Beagrie Ltd in conjunction with the Centre for Strategic Economic Studies at Victoria University, Melbourne, is available at

3.    The Secure Data Service empowers the work of UK social science researchers by providing controlled access to data that are too detailed, sensitive or confidential to be made available under the standard licences operated by ESDS. Established in 2011, the service is funded by ESRC and delivered by the UK Data Archive in collaboration with ESDS. More at

4.    The Census Programme provides data and support services to allow users in UK Higher and Further Education institutions to access the 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001 UK censuses. The programme has been funded by the ESRC from 2006 to 2012 with additional support from JISC.   More at

5.    Founded in 1967, the UK Data Archive is curator of the country's largest collection of digital data in the social sciences and humanities, with more than 5,200 datasets. The Archive is funded by the ESRC, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and the University of Essex. More at