Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, incoming President of the British Science Association and President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester, has today called for UK universities to “encourage, support and reward public engagement”.
Speaking ahead of her Presidential Address next week at the British Science Festival in Swansea, Professor Rothwell has spoken out against the lack of support from some universities when it comes to engaging with the public.
“Too often, university staff have limited support or training when it comes to engaging with the public. As a result, they can struggle to talk about their work to their local communities and the wider public, which leaves people questioning what is going on behind what they see as the closed doors of universities.
“Public engagement needs to be encouraged, and should be subject to the same rigorous assessment of quality and impact as research and teaching - it cannot merely be seen as a ‘soft option’.”
Professor Rothwell explained that it is now more important than ever for universities to explain the benefits of research and innovation to their local communities and the wider public, and to make people proud of the UK's position as a global scientific powerhouse.
Public engagement needs to be encouraged, and should be subject to the same rigorous assessment of quality and impact as research and teaching - it cannot merely be seen as a ‘soft option’
“The case that universities made for EU membership prior to the recent referendum – highlighting that it helps them to do vital work to improve the health, and the economic and cultural wellbeing of the UK, did not feature prominently in the overall debate. It didn’t resonate strongly with the public compared to other issues, which concerns me greatly.
“Now the decision to leave the EU has been made, we need to be more robust in our arguments about how universities better the lives of everyone, and about the value that science brings to the nation.
“I welcome the recent guarantee from the Government to match EU research funding until 2020, but the future remains uncertain. Universities need to be at the heart of designing the UK’s Brexit strategy and we must do more to encourage a sense of public pride in the UK’s fantastic scientific achievements, stressing their importance to our economy and wider society.
“Scientists and researchers need to get ‘out and about more’ and talk about their work and how it may improve everyday life or help solve the many challenges we face. As well as this, they need to share their love of knowledge and discovery, and encourage the public to get involved in their research. Universities must support them to do this, and stop seeing it as something to be done in their spare time.”
Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell will be giving her Presidential Address at the British Science Festival on Thursday 8 September at Swansea University. She will discuss the role of universities in the UK and globally today and how to balance ‘blue sky’ research, application and teaching.
The Festival will take place from 6-9 September in Swansea, and provides an opportunity to meet researchers face-to-face and discuss the latest science, technology and engineering.
Find out more about how the University of Manchester works with communities on our website.