LSE di­rec­tor’s plan to re­build trust in sec­tor

Academy must com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter with pub­lic, new LSE di­rec­tor says. Chris Haver­gal writes

THE (Times Higher Education) - - FRONT PAGE - www.timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­ Twit­ter: @timeshigh­ered

Uni­ver­si­ties too often sound “self­serv­ing” and must do a bet­ter job of com­mu­ni­cat­ing their value to so­ci­ety if they are to avoid be­ing pre­sented as part of a “dis­tant and malev­o­lent elite”, ac­cord­ing to the in­com­ing head of the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics and Po­lit­i­cal Science.

Writ­ing for Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion on the eve of her first day as di­rec­tor, Dame Mi­nouche Shafik (pic­tured) presents a four-point plan for restor­ing pub­lic con­fi­dence in the academy in the UK and over­seas.

The for­mer deputy gov­er­nor of the Bank of Eng­land warns that uni­ver­si­ties find them­selves threat­ened by “pop­ulist politi­cians [who] ped­dle prej­u­dice, para­noia and false prom­ises”, a wider de­sire “for more iso­la­tion and less in­ter­na­tion­al­ism”, and the rise of so­cial me­dia, where “peo­ple with deep knowl­edge of issues are over­shad­owed in pub­lic de­bate in favour of those with large fol­low­ings”.

“At best there is a greater in­dif­fer­ence to­wards those who pos­sess the knowl­edge and ev­i­dence to bet­ter in­form pol­i­cy­mak­ing on a na­tional and in­ter­na­tional level,” writes Dame Mi­nouche, a for­mer deputy man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund. “At worst there is ac­tual hos­til­ity ex­pressed to ‘ex­perts’ pre­sented as part of a dis­tant and malev­o­lent elite.”

The four-point plan, re­leased ahead of the THE World Aca­demic Sum­mit in Lon­don next week, calls on in­sti­tu­tions to “raise aware­ness of and spread the well-es­tab­lished prin­ci­ples that gov­ern what con­sti­tutes a valid in­tel­lec­tual con­tri­bu­tion”, such as peer re­view, trans­parency about con­flicts of in­ter­est, and open­ness of data. Think­tanks and the me­dia should be en­cour­aged to adopt such prac­tices, Dame Mi­nouche says.

Dame Mi­nouche, who held aca­demic ap­point­ments at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia and Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, says that mes­sages com­ing out of uni­ver­si­ties too often “sound self-serv­ing” and “ne­glect to em­pha­sise the pub­lic goods that we pro­duce”. Re­searchers must “strive to com­mu­ni­cate clearly about our work, aim­ing to reach not only those who want to hear from us but, cru­cially, those to whom we are, more often than not, an ir­rel­e­vance”, she adds.

Dame Mi­nouche’s third pri­or­ity is to in­stil in un­der­grad­u­ates “an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for rigour and a com­mit­ment to en­gage with pub­lic de­bate as ex­perts and as cit­i­zens”, ex­press­ing con­cern about stu­dents’ abil­ity to iden­tify so-called fake news and dis­in­for­ma­tion.

Uni­ver­si­ties must also “en­gage with views that are dif­fer­ent, even if they are un­com­fort­able”, Dame Mi­nouche says, adding that in­sti­tu­tions are “well po­si­tioned” to pro­vide “neu­tral spaces for real de­bate be­tween dif­fer­ent world­views”, while “stay­ing true to their val­ues of re­spect­ful dis­course and rigour”.

“At a time when many of the val­ues that we hold dear are un­der threat, we need to do a bet­ter job of ex­plain­ing our con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety and how es­sen­tial rigour, clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion, train­ing in crit­i­cal think­ing and gen­uine aca­demic de­bate are to the good that we do,” Dame Mi­nouche con­cludes.

Dame Mi­nouche’s ar­ti­cle can be read on­line at www. timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­ and in the THE World Univer­sity Rank­ings 2018 sup­ple­ment, avail­able with the 7 Septem­ber edition of THE.

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