Fight back against ‘anti-expert’ rhetoric, says Cambridge v-c

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz to tell THE summit that universities rely on public trust and institutional autonomy

September 27, 2016
Leszek Borysiewicz with World Academic Summit logo

Pre-register for a place at the THE World Academic Summit 2017 at King's College London

Leading universities must make a stronger case for their contribution to the public good in response to growing “anti-expert” rhetoric, according to the vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge.

In a keynote address on the opening day of the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit, held at the University of California, Berkeley, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz was expected to say that institutions’ ability to conduct teaching and research depended on them retaining the trust of society at large.

Sir Leszek was due to warn that the feeling that universities did not share the public’s goals was “one of the biggest risks to [their] legitimacy”, expressing concern about claims made ahead of the UK’s referendum on European Union membership that “Britain has had enough of experts”.

“If that is really so – and it would be a mistake to underestimate the strength of feeling, or the sense of grievance felt by many – then we, universities, need to make a better case for our role as institutions that contribute to the public good,” Sir Leszek was set to say. “If society does not believe that we have its interests at heart, we need to do a better job at engaging with it and communicating the impact of our work.”

In his address, Sir Leszek was expected to argue that universities’ ability to fulfil their duties to society was also dependent on them retaining their institutional autonomy, calling for university leaders to “fiercely defend the right to carve out a space for intellectual enquiry that will not be obviously or immediately impactful”.

While there is no problem with universities being “properly monitored” by independent bodies, Sir Leszek was due to say that he would be “concerned by attempts to direct, or determine by committee, what and how universities should be doing”.

“If our institutional autonomy is eroded, so is public trust in what we do. Society, rightly, loses trust in institutions that are dictated to.”

He was also due to call for research-intensive universities to focus on international collaboration, arguing that the complexity of global challenges and the diminution of resources meant that “the lone researcher – even the lone institution – is no longer a viable model for the delivery of world-leading science”.

University leaders from around the world were gathering in Berkeley for the THE summit, which this year has the theme “world-class universities and the public good”. Topics being discussed included funding, academic freedom and the role of higher education institutions in tackling social inequality.

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

David Parkins Christmas illustration (22 December 2016)

A Dickensian tale, set in today’s university

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together