Campus close-up: University of Sussex

Nearing its half-century, the Science Policy Research Unit’s bold bid to find ‘radical solutions’ to global problems will cast the expertise net wide

April 23, 2015

Source: Corbis

Bright ideas required: global challenges such as climate change, food security and energy issues ‘cut across sectors’

According to Johan Schot, director of the University of Sussex’s Science Policy Research Unit, which next year celebrates its 50th anniversary, the very fact that the unit has “survived intact” for so long within the university’s School of Business, Management and Economics proves what a unique and important entity it is.

Founded in 1966 by economist Christopher Freeman, a pioneer in looking at how innovation can be used to fuel economic development, it was “one of the first interdisciplinary research centres in the field of science and technology policy and management”, according to Sussex.

It is now entering a new phase as it embarks on an ambitious strategy in the run-up to its half-century that involves creating an up-to-date theory of innovation. The theory will draw on the economics of innovation, science and technology studies and the history of technology.

Professor Schot said that over the past 50 years the social sciences have been good at “deconstructing the world” but “a bit cautious about helping to construct a new world”.

Now is the time, he added, for the social sciences and humanities to work with the sciences, government, businesses and other parties to establish new models that will solve crises. He hopes that the unit can help to create these bridges between the disciplines and parts of society on a larger scale than it has done before.

Professor Schot joined the Science Policy Research Unit in January 2014 after more than a decade at Eindhoven University of Technology, where he was involved in reorganising its curricula to integrate the sciences and engineering with the social sciences.

Although he is the only historian in the unit, Professor Schot said his peers have a “real appreciation of historical perspective”. He hopes this will aid the drive towards a new innovation theory, which he believes is sorely needed.

“We need radical new solutions…We are looking forward to being at the heart of that work,” he said.

The world is “struggling with a number of important issues”, such as climate change, food security and mobility and energy issues, that cut across sectors, Professor Schot observed.

“Within SPRU we have the knowledge of these various perspectives, so we are bringing this all together in a new initiative that will create a connective tissue between the various people and research interests, and work with a range of stakeholders to address these problems.”

Governments, non-governmental organisations, businesses, private foundations, international organisations and research councils are among the groups the unit aims to bring together.

It will also draw on alumni. The unit has, according to Professor Schot, “an amazing alumni base because it has been training all these graduate students that are now in influential science policy positions all over the world”. This makes the unit a “global actor”, he added. “Its work is appreciated for example in China, on a very high level. That is one of the things I was not aware of [before I arrived].”

As part of the anniversary plans, Professor Schot hopes to highlight these connections by organising a series of activities to bring people together. “We will try to see how we can involve them to address the research agenda as we see it,” he added.

The unit’s research is driven “not only by academic agendas but by problems and issues in society”, and people outside the academy have important insights to contribute to the research agenda, he said.

“I want to have a process in place for that. Up until now this happened at SPRU within individual [research projects] but we will do it now on the level of SPRU [overall],” he said.

holly.else@tesglobal.com

In numbers

140 master’s and PhD students make up the Science Policy Research Unit’s postgraduate cohort.

Campus news

University of Central Lancashire
Students can put their Camp America experience towards a postgraduate-level degree. The partnership between the University of Central Lancashire and Camp America, which offers “cultural exchange summer jobs” at children’s summer camps in the US, allows students to gain 20 academic credits and a postgraduate certificate in return for their work. An introduction to the course will be held over two days at Uclan’s Preston campus, where students will attend lectures and workshops.

University of Liverpool
A new MBA aims to develop future business leaders for thoroughbred horse racing and secure a strong future for the sport. The University of Liverpool’s course, launching in September, offers vocational training through industry placements and visits to racecourses, stud farms, training facilities and betting firms. Tom Cannon, professor of strategic development at the university’s management school, said: “The core elements of the programme include leadership, strategy, managing the environment, innovation, entrepreneurship and managing financial resources.”

Bangor University
A collection of more than 2,000 Arthurian books has been donated to Bangor University. The collection, which includes some rare early printed works and deluxe editions of 19th-century titles, was originally given to Flintshire County Libraries in 1952 by E. R. Harries, a former librarian of the county. The university said the donation would make its Arthurian collection larger than any other in Wales or northern England.

St Mary’s University, Twickenham
Students will be able to see the Rugby World Cup trophy at a London university this autumn. The Webb Ellis Cup will arrive at St Mary’s University, Twickenham on 10 September, eight days before England kick off the tournament against Fiji. St Mary’s, which will be used as a training base by New Zealand and South Africa, will hold a community rugby event for local schools, residents, staff and students to mark the occasion.

University of Huddersfield
A journal for postgraduates in history has been launched. The journal, Postgraduate Perspectives on the Past, is published by the University of Huddersfield and edited by PhD students. Academics from Huddersfield and elsewhere will peer review the submissions. According to Paul Ward, head of history, English, languages and media, they will be asked to produce comments and suggested revisions that keep “the feelings of the authors in mind”.

University of Sheffield
Academics have staged a round-the-clock lecture marathon for charity. The University of Sheffield’s third annual 24 Hour Inspire event was held from 16 to 17 April in honour of Sheffield academics Tim Richardson and Victoria Henshaw, both of whom died of cancer in their forties. It was organised by Dr Richardson’s charity, Inspiration for Life, which promotes lifelong learning and supports students and local organisations. Lecture topics ranged from what to do with nuclear waste to music for well-being and life with artificial intelligence.

Cranfield University
The aerospace company Boeing has signed a collaboration agreement with an English university. The arrangement with Cranfield University will allow employees of the US firm access to Cranfield’s educational resources and could lead to students at the university working on Boeing projects. Sir Peter Gregson, chief executive and vice-chancellor of Cranfield, said: “This new agreement means that we will continue to develop our long-term and mutually beneficial relationship.”

University College London
A UK computer scientist regarded as one of the fathers of the internet is to be given an international lifetime achievement award. Peter Kirstein, professor of computer communications science at University College London, will receive the $100,000 (£67,000) 2015 Marconi Society Prize at the Royal Society on 20 October for his “pioneering technical contributions to computer networking”. Professor Kirstein, who worked at Cern as an accelerator physicist early in his career, led the first experimental work on the internet at UCL, and contributed to the development of email and network interconnection.

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