Call for research board to guide public services

July 30, 2009

A public services research board should be set up to prevent public funds being wasted on unworkable policies, a Cardiff University academic has recommended.

Jonathan Shepherd, a criminologist and professor of maxillofacial surgery, said that public services need to develop a research culture similar to that in medicine.

Research-intensive universities should be required to set up schools and institutes to support all major public services, he argued.

A public services research board would train "practitioner-academics" and ensure that research was shared between research councils, public services and government departments, he added.

Professor Shepherd said: "In London there are eight medical schools, all powerhouses of innovation and cost-effective care. Where's the equivalent for the police service?"

While professors of medicine research and provide clinical care, professors of education no longer teach in schools, he added.

"Not only does the day-to-day practice cease to inform the research agenda, but a credibility gap emerges where the practitioner and student can see that the lecturer's knowledge of the real world is out of date. It also allows the non-practising lecturer or academic to more easily move into esoteric theory."

Meanwhile, in a report published last week, a committee of MPs recommends that John Beddington, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, publish an annual list of instances where the Government overrules departmental scientific advice.

The Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee says the Government's expert advisers should "challenge policymakers to demonstrate clear evidence to support policy or to acknowledge that no such evidence exists".

Its report, Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy, also questions the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency's decision to license homoeopathic drugs, and criticises the Government's decision to roll out its "Every Child a Reader" programme less than halfway through a three-year pilot.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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