Comment »Posted on Monday 27 July 2009 at 11:41 am by Colin Stuart
In Science Policy

As regular Just a Theory readers will know I have been more than a little critical of our new Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. However it seems that, although somewhat overdue, the growing voice of concern amongst us is starting to make a difference. The right words are starting to flow from the lips of our First Minister of State. About time too.

In a speech given this morning at Birkbeck College in London, Lord Mandleson had reassuring words to say to those of us who are scared that pure science would be bullied and beaten by its bigger and uglier brother of applied science. It seems BIS are now publicly reacting to our growing voice of concern. An obvious change of tone to a speech Lord Mandleson gave in June, claiming that universities were ‘delighted’ by the merger than spawned BIS, this is what Mandy had to say this morning:

“I recognise that bringing university policy into a department with ‘business’ in its title has not thrilled everyone in the university world. But it really puts universities at the heart of policy on our future growth and prosperity.

“I need to be clear that I do not believe that the function of a university is limited to – or even primarily about – economic outcomes. They are not factories for producing workers. Defining the skills that directly underwrite many skilled jobs in the UK is not the same as defining useful and necessary knowledge. The case for a higher education system that invests in everything from Classics to quantum physics is a compelling one.

“I say this not just because the utility in knowledge is often impossible to predict. It is because knowledge is an end in itself; because historical awareness and critical thinking are part of the inventory of a rounded human being.”

I for one am glad to hear these words, as it is the message I have been arguing since BIS was introduced back in early June. However, as always actions speak louder than words, and I wait to see whether Mandy is just paying us grumblers lip service or whether he really means it.

To see more of what Lord Mandelson had to say read Phil Baty’s article over at Times Higher Education.

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