Cambridge launches policy institute to tackle ‘age of disruption’

Centre will combine basic research with practical solutions to grand challenges

April 16, 2018
University of Cambridge
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The University of Cambridge has launched a new public policy institute to address inequality and social unrest across the world, after receiving a “major gift” from a philanthropist.

The Bennett Institute for Public Policy will combine fundamental research with the search for new practical solutions to challenges such as the digital divide, resource scarcity and the need for more equitable growth.

It will blend Cambridge’s research in technology and science with analysis of the political dimensions of policy and investigate the ways in which scientific and technical expertise and policy choices interrelate in a world where many feel disenchanted with politics and economics.

The university said that it was founded in response to the political, economic and social turbulence of recent years.

The institute will launch interdisciplinary research programmes on policy challenges in different parts of the world as well as in the city of Cambridge itself. It is already establishing projects on the constitutional future of the UK and Ireland post-Brexit and the increasing role of “GovTech” as states grapple with digital technologies.

Diane Coyle, who became the inaugural Bennett professor of public policy at the university last month, told Times Higher Education that the institute will also launch a doctoral programme in public policy and recruit new postdoctoral researchers as well as research assistants and lecturers.

She said that the UK has traditionally been “rather behind the US in setting up policy institutes” but the new centre recognises “the need to work in a new kind of way to address policy challenges”.

“This takes place at a time when people have been casting doubt on expertise and sources of authority so one of the things that we have to think about is how to ensure that evidence is trusted and that policy advice has legitimacy,” she said.

The institute, which is based at the department for politics and international studies and will be led by professor of public policy Michael Kenny, was launched following a gift from Cambridge alumnus and philanthropist Peter Bennett. He formerly worked in banking and fund management and established the Peter Bennett Foundation in 2012 to seek innovative ways to reduce poverty and promote equality.

The university would not disclose the sum of the donation but said that Mr Bennett “has given a significant and generous gift, commensurate with the naming of a landmark new institute at the University of Cambridge”.

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