The CST is the most senior science advisory body in the UK, reporting directly to the Prime Minister, and has 15 members, ranging from social scientists to industrialists. Their role includes advising on innovation policy and undertaking projects; this was one such project, instigated by John Denham.
Professor Dame Janet Finch introduced the report. This report was required since a need was identified to strengthen meaningful engagement between academia and government. These are not the same issues as face engagement between academia and industry, though there are some comparable points. The CST sees there is a gulf between academia and government, and is looking at why and how it can be bridged.
The report recommends three areas to be considered:
- Build relationships and communication between academics and policy-makers
- Build capacity to ensure a more active engagement (on both sides)
- Rate, value and reward the engagement (ensure it is reflected in career structures etc.)
What is needed is more world-class exchange mechanisms, in both directions, at all levels and for different purposes.
John Denham offered a government response to the report. The need is apparent to mobilise the resources of our world-class research base. This relates to the HE Review which is ongoing, since better working relations between academics and government will help to make the case for further investment in academia. Ministers need policies that work, and evidence for it, and academia can produce this. Both sides need to see this interaction as “part of the day job”. There are issues which need to be addressed, such as the relationship with the Research Excellence Framework (the replacement for the Research Assessment Exercise), but DIUS is looking in depth at practical proposals for taking this forward.
Baroness Warwick, Chief Executive of UUK, responded on behalf of the universities. We should be “delighted” that government recognises the significance of academic input to policymaking. The report points out that there is a need to reconcile differing expectations, and for a culture change to facilitate the exchange of people, research and resources. The universities are in a unique position to make a contribution to government and there is much to be learned from this experience. We need greater permeability of the boundaries between academia and the wider world generally. The details now need to be worked out; for example, we cannot only reward research which finds political favour.
Finally, three researchers who had taken part in an ESRC exchange scheme discussed their experiences with Vivien Parry, highlighting the issues of the report, such as that there seemed little merit for their department, and is not recognised as an aspect of their research careers. However, all three recommended the ESRC exchange as an excellent way of contributing to policymaking and as a positive experience for them.
The report is available online here.