University research currently speaks to a limited audience. For it to become the “fifth estate”, as Beate Scholz and David Bogle suggest (“Truth in research”, Letters, 22 December), will require radical realignment.
Finding an affordable place to live, earning enough to pay the bills, obtaining timely medical treatment, and dealing with hate crimes: these are the manifestations in people’s daily lives of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Scholz and Bogle cite.
But genetics research, indicators of climate change, and even analysis of social problems can appear to be of little immediate significance to large sections of society. Mass media reinforce this apparent mismatch, disregarding the majority of university research as merely “academic”.
We believe that the “populism” to which Scholz and Bogle refer can be harnessed into rights-based approaches to research increasingly deployed: participatory action research.
Unless universities build two-way partnerships with those beyond the scientific, political and industrial elites that can quickly address people’s daily struggles, an increasing proportion of the public will dismiss academia as largely irrelevant.
Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience
Missenden Centre for the Development of Higher Education