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Dsit name ‘should be changed to include humanities scholars’

Image: Jorg Greuel, via Getty Images

Rejig of Westminster approach to research among suggestions for party manifestos

The name of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology “screams lab coats and test tubes”, and should be changed to make it more inclusive for researchers working in humanities and social sciences, a former government adviser has suggested.

Diana Beech, who advised three universities and science ministers and is currently head of the London Higher group of universities, told Research Professional News that if the next government wants to be “serious about building an innovation nation built on our interdisciplinary strengths”, then it needs to adopt a more inclusive approach that “explicitly acknowledges the contribution of the UK’s world-leading creative arts, humanities and social science institutions to our research excellence”.

“While it is encouraging to have a dedicated department for science, innovation and technology, there can be no doubt that the name screams lab coats and test tubes,” she added.

Beech was among the higher education leaders who spoke to RPN about the policies they would like to see included in political parties’ general election manifestos, which are expected to be published next week.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, also called for a rethink of how higher education is overseen in Westminster, calling for a “tweak [to] the machinery of government so that we have a minister for universities and science once more”. Currently, responsibility for these areas is split between Dsit and the Department for Education.

Manifesto talk

Other senior higher education figures said that they want the party manifestos to focus on the higher education funding crisis.

“The next government needs to commission a fundamental review of university finances,” said Adam Tickell, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham. “The challenge is that there are no easy answers. Further real-terms reductions in fees will lead to failures and deteriorating quality of education, any reduction in the number of students attending universities will be socially regressive, and the Treasury isn’t awash with cash.”

Rachel Hewitt, chief executive of the MillionPlus group of universities, agreed that the financial landscape across higher education “is stark, and there are very real concerns that the huge gains in widening access in recent years will start to be eroded unless urgent steps are taken”.

MillionPlus wants a “social mobility premium” for institutions that create opportunities for communities that do not traditionally enter higher education, potentially paid for from the £1.5 billion Strategic Priorities Grant. “This would recognise the additional support put in place by institutions whose core mission is to support these students,” Hewitt said.