Universities 'should increase their influence on key public issues'

September 30, 2005

Academics should play a much greater role in shaping public opinion and bridge the gap between universities and Whitehall policymakers, according to an academic and former adviser to the Government.

After the 1997 election, David Begg of Robert Gordon University advised the Labour Government on transport policies, contributing to the 1998 Transport White Paper and the ten-year Transport Plan two years later.

He has also pressed for a national congestion charge.

Professor Begg has been a Labour Party member for 30 years. He came to the notice of the incoming Blair Government after having served in local politics in Scotland, working as convener of the transport committee at the City of Edinburgh Council and as transport spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Professor Begg, who also publishes Transport Times , said: "It takes longer for policies that are bold but well thought-out to be implemented. The gestation period is much longer than I anticipated. Whitehall is a slow-moving machine.

"Think about congestion charging. This was an idea that was spawned in academia more than 40 years ago. But I see one of the key roles for academics is to be a bridge between academe and Whitehall policymaking and politics."

Professor Begg - who from 1999 to March this year served as chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport, an independent advisory body - said it should be a "constructive role for academics to try to influence public opinion".

He said: "The hardest job is being a politician. If a politician makes a mistake, he gets kicked out of office."

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