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Policy engagement in lockdown - the University of Birmingham view

Let’s not beat about the bush, the last few months have been challenging.

On an individual level, we’ve had to embrace new ways of working - and for some, this also involves juggling home-schooling or caring responsibilities. Concern for our family and friends is made harder by the fact that we can’t see each other face-to-face.

Meanwhile, in the world of HE policy engagement, we’ve had to contend with questions over international recruitment and the knock-on effect to the domestic market. We’ve had changes to the REF submission timetable. COP26 has been postponed. Political discourse - for so long focused on Brexit - has now become preoccupied with COVID-19.

These are challenging times, on both a personal and professional level. But in the midst of adversity, it has been heartening to see how people in our communities have pulled together, whether that’s by ringing up people in isolation, volunteering to help the vulnerable or showing our appreciation for key workers through Clap For Our Carers.

We talk about universities being ‘anchor institutions’ in our communities, but now we have the opportunity to demonstrate it. Up and down the country, universities have been carrying out vital research, donating medical supplies and manufacturing PPE for frontline care workers. Students have volunteered their time, catering teams have donated food to the needy and expert commentary from academics is helping us to tackle the pandemic and its related issues.

The view from Birmingham

In Birmingham, one of our key priorities is to ensure that our stakeholders are well informed about what we are doing during the pandemic. We do this in a number of ways, but one of the main things we do is to produce a weekly briefing for policy makers. This briefing looks at our latest COVID-19 research projects, community support initiatives and expert commentary from across the university.

An ongoing priority for us is to grow and develop our community of policy-engaged academics. This involves building relationships across the institution and raising the internal visibility of the public affairs team, but it also means making a conscious effort to go beyond the ‘usual suspects’ to offer opportunities to a more diverse range of people. We’re still working out how best to do this, but it is great to see that promoting diversity is a priority for UPEN.

In the short term, one of the proactive things we are doing is to develop our training offer, particularly in terms of self-serve resources. As part of this, we recently developed a suite of videos to help introduce people to the world of policy engagement. This includes a pre-lockdown interview with Professor Paul Burstow, a minister in the coalition government. We plan to film further interviews with more contributors once the social distancing rules are relaxed.

Finally, we are continuing to provide dedicated policy engagement support to academics. While there are certainly challenges to doing this in lockdown, one thing this crisis has shown is that expert and timely advice can make a real difference. Perhaps when the dust begins to settle, there could be a role for UPEN in convening a panel of experts to produce a ‘lessons learned’ paper?

Jeremy Swan works as a Public Affairs Manager (Policy Impact) for the University of Birmingham.


Posted 06/05/2020 15:03

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