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Building better connections between Whitehall and academia

Date: 05/06/2018

Senior government and university leaders will gather today [June 5] to discuss new ways to strengthen the connections between Whitehall and academia, with a focus on the contribution that can be made by the social sciences and humanities.

The half day conference – “Strengthening connections between Whitehall and academia” – will be held at Institute for Government (IfG) and is being supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Tom Sasse, Researcher at the IfG, says: “The UK has many of the world’s leading academics - and their knowledge, expertise and research can help inform, design, improve, test and scrutinise government policy.”

According to organisers, while policy-making is a core task for government, to make policy well government needs to be open to external ideas, including from academics.

“But too often the relationship between government and academia does not work as well as it should do, which means valuable knowledge remains untapped,” says Sasse.

The UK Government currently spends £9 billion a year funding academic research.The UK has 30 of the top 200 universities in the world and is home to leading academics in virtually all disciplines – many of whom are working in areas directly relevant to public policy.

But new research by the IfG, published in a new report ‘How Government can work with Academia’, says that government often struggles to draw on academia effectively in forming policy. Where good engagement happens it often relies on individuals.

The IfG research found that often policy officials do not feel that they have time to engage with academics, and when they do, they often struggle to find relevant research, which leads to frustration and valuable knowledge remaining untapped.

This conference will be an opportunity to address this situation and provide a forum for government officials, academics and research funders to talk about how they can work together better.

“We will be discussing everything from how academics influence policy by providing informal advice, taking part in secondments or sitting on committees; to how new research can help government tackle the big challenges it faces,” says Sasse.

The conference will discuss new ideas based on research done separately by the Policy Profession and IfG and seek to build support at a senior level to take recommendations forward.

Among those attending will be Senior Whitehall officials including Departmental Heads of Profession; Chief Analysts; Chief Scientific Advisors; Directors General, Directors and Deputy Directors; Academics, Research Funders and Research organisations with specific interest in policy making.

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