Establishing academic connections

Further to a visit to Lancaster University by specialists from the House of Commons Library and the Committee Office back in March, Kevin Jones, Director of Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC), and Alona Armstrong, Lancaster Energy fellow, came to Westminster to showcase some of Lancaster’s research.

Speaking to staff in the Library, Committee Office, Scrutiny Unit, and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), Kevin summarised some of the work going on at Lancaster across a broad range of subjects. The Environment Centre alone has more than 1000 students, around 17% of whom are working on PhDs. As well as working in all sorts of interesting areas such as water quality, food security, biodiversity, terrestrial renewables, land use in China, and predicting the future of human modified tropical forests in Brazil, LEC hosts 25 businesses, The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and an Environment Agency Office. There are more than 500 environmental professionals on site and the centre also contains international offices for partnerships in Africa, China and Brazil. (See www.lancaster.ac.uk/lec and www.energy.lancs.ac.uk).

So why is this relevant to Parliament? The Library, Committee Teams and POST are a vital source of independent information for MPs across the political spectrum. Ensuring that specialists in the House have networks of contacts in the academic world, and can easily keep abreast of developments in research, is crucial to ensuring we deliver the highest quality service to our customers. Well informed advice promotes evidence-based scrutiny and policy making.

And let’s not forget that academia can provide a valuable source of evidence for select committees (including as witnesses for oral evidence). The Liaison Committee has encouraged committees to broaden their range of witnesses away from what have been the ‘usual suspects’ to avoid “limiting the breadth of the evidence base” (see para 77 of its 2012 report on Select committee effectiveness, resources and powers).

LEC is keen to take up the baton of parliamentary engagement. Later this month a postdoc and a PhD student will spend time in Westminster to develop the idea of producing concise policy briefings linking research outcomes to policy themes. These will potentially be a very useful product for Parliamentarians, specialists in Parliament, and the wider world. And there are opportunities for House specialists to spend time at LEC, meeting students, faculty members, and even business contacts, helping to maintain and enhance specialist knowledge and contacts.

For more information contact Sarah Hartwell-Naguib, Head of the Library’s Science and Environment Section.