Who needs experts?

November 10, 2016

On Saturday 29 October, Glyn Davies, Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, tweeted: “Personally, never thought of academics as ‘experts’. No experience of the real world.” Under the hashtag #RealWorldAcademics, the academic community responded with the myriad ways in which we inform the “real world” through our research and through the wider social, economic and cultural contributions of our universities, most of which now have turnovers of well over £100 million annually.

I was an early responder to Davies, pointing out that his constituency encompasses one of the many locations across the UK where I have undertaken commissioned tourism and economic impact assessments of proposed wind farms. This academic expertise has contributed to planning consultations and decisions, and a High Court ruling. It has also resulted in my being called as an expert witness to give evidence at planning appeals and public inquiries. To be an established academic is to be an expert.

I have recently joined a university that received the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education 2015 for its leadership of design and 3D digital scanning technologies in maxillofacial reconstructive surgery in treatment after disease or trauma. I am proud to be part of a community of experts who are committed to making significant, if sometimes undervalued, contributions to health and wealth generation in the world.

To denigrate the contribution of academics to society and the economy to the extent that Davies suggests is to take Michael Gove’s assertion that “people have had enough of experts” into the dangerous realm of anti-intellectualism. As we embark on uncharted territory in global politics and economics, our country needs all the expertise it can muster and our universities’ academics have key roles to play.

Cara Aitchison
President and vice-chancellor
Cardiff Metropolitan University

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