Universities should change their approach to disseminating research and operate more like think tanks if they want to get into the minds of government leaders and influence policy, according to a former UK senior civil servant.
Addressing academic leaders at an event organised by the Higher Education Policy Institute, a panel of experts called on educators to bridge the divide between the “two separate cultures” dividing academia and UK policy. Iain Mansfield, a governor of Bath Spa University and a former senior civil servant in the ministry of education, says that looking up academic articles was “not a natural part of the job” of civil servants, meaning relevant research that could be vital for decision-making is largely ignored.
“We do look at evidence, but we look to think tanks,” he admitted. “Why do we like think tanks so much when UK universities contain far more expertise? Because the best think tanks do good research and synthesise it into nicely packaged reports — they speak our language, and we can read it and use it.” Universities should therefore set up research centres that speak politicians’ language, he advised.
“Essentially, to get your research into policy you need to operate like a think tank. Setting up centres can have a hugely disproportionate impact on policy… it will lead to better policymaking and help you in the (research excellence framework) as well,” he concluded.
(Excerpted and adapted from The Economist and Times Higher Education)