Academics ‘embedded’ in UK parliament to share research insights

Move seen as a way of strengthening links between academia and policymakers to ensure parliamentarians have access to latest scholarship

November 21, 2022
London, UK - July 8, 2015 Double-decker and the Big Ben in London. The bus is driving across the Westminster bridge with people walking in the background.
Source: iStock

Academics will be “embedded at the heart” of the Westminster parliament to help forge better links between research communities and policymakers.

Three researchers from UK institutions are set to take up Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded roles to bring policy-focused studies “to the desks of MPs, Lords and those working in parliament”.

The move, based on the concept of chief scientific advisers, has been welcomed by the current post-holder, Sir Patrick Vallance, who said that the “role of research and evidence in policymaking has never been more important”.

Parliamentarians will be given further access to “the very best independent evidence to inform their business and ensure effective and equitable policy”, said Sir Patrick, a former head of UCL’s department of medicine who rose to national prominence during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Governments across the world have long searched for ways to ensure universities’ research has more of impact on policymaking and the collaboration with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (Post) will now see three “thematic policy hubs” created.

Tamsin Edwards, reader in climate change at King’s College London, will lead a climate and environment strand. A specialist in quantifying the uncertainties of climate model predictions, she was lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sixth assessment report, published in 2021.

Rick Whitaker, associate professor in European politics at the University of Leicester, will lead on parliament, public administration and constitution. His research focuses on the UK parliament, British political parties and the European Parliament and a recent study looked at how MPs dealt with the Brexit process.

Finally, Kristen Harkness, director of the Institute for the Study of War and Strategy at the University of St Andrews will lead on international affairs and defence. The author of When Soldiers Rebel: Ethnic Armies and Political Instability in Africa, her research focuses on understanding how ethnicity shapes the loyalty and behaviour of military institutions.

All three will begin their new roles in January 2023 and will be expected to work alongside parliamentary research staff to share their impartial expertise and knowledge of policy areas.

“They will bring insights from the wider academic community and support horizon-scanning to ensure that parliamentarians and their staff are able to access high quality and relevant research briefings on current and future issues,” a statement from Post said.

Alison Park, interim executive chair of the ESRC, said that she hoped the collaboration would “continue to build the capability of parliament to work with academics, as well as helping to create a new generation of policy-minded academics”.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons, said the “exciting” initiative would “truly embed” links to academia in the parliament and provide access to the most current scientific insights.

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