Research relevance

January 12, 2017

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.

Tom Wakeford
Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience
Coventry University
John Wakeford
Missenden Centre for the Development of Higher Education

Send to

Letters should be sent to:
Letters for publication in Times Higher Education should arrive by 9am Monday.
View terms and conditions.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Daniel Mitchell illustration (29 June 2017)

Academics who think they can do the work of professional staff better than professional staff themselves are not showing the kind of respect they expect from others

As the pay of BBC on-air talent is revealed, one academic comes clean about his salary

Senior academics at Teesside University put at risk of redundancy as summer break gets under way

Capsized woman and boat

Early career academics can be left to sink or swim when navigating the choppy waters of learning scholarly writing. Helen Sword says a more formal, communal approach can help everyone, especially women

Thorns and butterflies

Conditions that undermine the notion of scholarly vocation – relentless work, ubiquitous bureaucracy – can cause academics acute distress and spur them to quit, says Ruth Barcan