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Edinburgh blazes ‘young academy’ trail in UK

The Royal Society of Edinburgh has become the first in the UK to launch a young academy, following a trend already begun in Europe and expected to take hold in other countries.

The motivation for the RSE Young Academy of Scotland, according to a society statement, is to “provide a platform for the best and most forward-looking people of their generation to develop for themselves a distinctive, coherent and influential ‘voice’ to address many of the challenging issues facing society. It will provide a forum for its members to engage with talented individuals beyond their own discipline or profession.”

According to Bristow Muldoon, a parliamentary liaison officer at the society, the precise detail of what this will entail is still unclear. “The whole programme is still being worked up,” he said in an interview with Research Fortnight.

The academy’s official launch won’t take place until 29 November at an event that will feature lectures from a number of high profile speakers on the potential of such an initiative. These include Shami Chakrabarti, the director of pressure group Liberty, and the evolutionary biologist Steve Jones.

Following this, a steering group will be established that will include both senior members of the society together with their younger counterparts. The job of the steering group will be to direct the activities of the young academy. Eventually, the society hopes the young academy will be run by its own members.

The activities of the young academy are likely to consist of speaking events where members will bring their own expertise to bear on a variety of topics.

Young academy members are also expected to get involved in the actual work of the society. For example, Muldoon says that the society runs policy working groups where the organisation’s position on a particular area of government policy is adopted and from which policy advice to the government is offered. Currently these working groups are made up of senior society members but in the future Muldoon says young academy members will also be involved.

The first 68 members of the academy from a total of 336 applicants were announced on 5 September. They come from a variety of disciplines including biology, geoscience, music, law, social science and business and are made up of 40 per cent women. Eighty per cent of the members come from the academic community with the remaining 20 per cent from business and industry. The average age of the 68 members is 36.