Call for regional scientific advisers to boost local engagement

Local advisers may be outcome of new UCL-led project to improve academic-policy ties in England

July 10, 2020
Town hall
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English councils should appoint scientific advisers to enable academics to inform local policy decisions, according to a university leader.

David Price, vice-provost (research) at UCL and principal investigator of a new £10 million project to improve academic-policy engagement, said that there was a recognised need to ensure universities contributed to the well-being of the country as a whole, but a lack of established mechanisms for the exchange of information between scholars and policymakers at a local or regional level.

“One of the things we’ve been talking about in London is the concept of boroughs actually having chief scientific advisers, just like we have in departments of state in Whitehall. I think certain regional authorities need them as well,” he said.

“Wherever one is making decisions at whatever level – be it rural rubbish collection or healthcare delivery in a rural area that is overseen by a county council or a local region – having that scientific input to understand how the research can inform the local policy process is vital. It isn’t just something that national governments need to think about.”

Professor Price, who said that the appointment of scientific advisers at a regional level would potentially be “a great outcome” of the policy project, added that he hoped it would enable local authorities to engage with different parts of the higher education sector based on different institutions’ expertise, rather than just their local universities.

The new three-year Capabilities in Academic-Policy Engagement (Cape) project will be led by UCL in partnership with the universities of Cambridge, Manchester, Nottingham and Northumbria, and government and policy organisations. It aims to support academic-policy engagement at scale and throughout England, to ensure that policy issues beyond Westminster are being addressed.  

Sarah Chaytor, UCL’s director of research strategy and policy and co-lead of the project, which has received £3.9 million from Research England, said that academic-policy engagement currently tends to be an individual and “piecemeal” activity, in which scholars “broker one engagement at a time in a particular area with a particular subset of policy stakeholders”. The CAPE project will help develop a large-scale and more collaborative approach, she added.

Ms Chaytor said a key element would be to involve academics at every career level, while a new scheme will fund at least 20 academic fellowships and 15 policy fellowships for two years.

“It’s quite a disruptive thing to say ‘please stop your academic work and go and spend some time doing something that may not be specified in a policy organisation or a government department where there may not be a clear outcome’, because actually it’s all about building that relationship,” she said.

“A fair chunk of the award is going to support that disruption and make these sorts of fellowships attractive to academics and attractive at all career levels.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

This is likely to end badly, for the scientists and their universities, having a pool of knowledge and academics to deliver it when asked for it would be a better option, if academics want to be politicians they should become politicians. Or is this the next stage in the Marxist 'long march'?

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