Whitehall fails to tap academic resources

November 13, 2008

Whatever the intentions of the Government, academics and Times Higher Education in encouraging greater interaction between academics and policymakers ("Still no call from No 10?", 6 November), the reality is that - under the currently prevailing attitudes - any attempts are doomed to failure.

In one sense this is surprising, because in the context of the research excellence framework, funding indicators are becoming increasingly important for research status. With all the research councils stressing the need for knowledge transfer, the Government ought to be a perfect, ready-made client for knowledge transfer - informing policy issues should be a precondition for winning more "blue-chip" funding, especially in the social sciences.

More academics should be engaging with the public sector - and with central Government - as a means of demonstrating the societal value of their knowledge and justifying the Government's high levels of investment in the science base.

However, as your feature correctly points out, this is not happening, although the barriers that it cites are quite small scale and yet intractable. An alternative view would be that Whitehall often lacks the capacity to interact effectively with academic "knowledge producers", hence its preference for consultants and academics' weak influence in Government.

Paul Benneworth, Academic fellow in territorial governance, Research Councils UK, Newcastle University.

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