Nell Crowden: More bravery needed among academics

The Clean Med Europe 2013 conference, , organised by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare and Healthcare Without Harm, was much what I expected: buzzy conversation with brilliant contacts, inspiring speakers on both familiar themes and then some pretty snazzy innovation too—plus beautiful Oxford settings to top it all.

One conversation (names will not be revealed) really struck me though. There are corporates out there, who are willing to spend millions funding quality research – without any strings attached to the funding – yet some academics had refused to accept funding from them due to disliking a professional association with a corporate, and therefore the research has fallen flat. What???

This makes me incredibly angry: 1) we need that research to generate compelling national and international policy and justify legal action for sustainability, 2) academics: do your research into the corporates. Listen to them. Look at their rate of change for corporate social responsibility and their impact, before you jump to judging, and 3) this is my future too – do you seriously care more about your reputation that you do about making a positive impact in a rapidly declining world? Are you going to sit back in 30 years time, and think “oh yes, I’m such a good person because I didn’t take that grant money from X or Y corporate – and ah well, the research didn’t get published”. Thanks.

It seems to me, that some academics are in desperate need of a wake up call: the economy is in decline, the government doesn’t have much dosh (they say), and therefore, if you want to further your career and generate meaningful and useful research (because you are clearly very good at doing this), then you are going to have to change your attitude and start collaborating.

With tuition fees going through the roof and funding being cut, universities are increasingly having to build relationships with business – both for financial needs, and justification for services: what is the average return on investment on a bachelor’s degree these days, if there isn’t a job at the end of it? Whilst academic rigour must of course maintain neutrality (as much as possible), where is the future without including some funding from corporates? Can you afford not to take the untied funding and for a moment in your career be associated with a corporate?

I ask you, academics – be brave. If you have the opportunity to put your talent and skills to work, to create a really useful piece of research which CAN make a difference to our future, regardless of funding: please do. We need it. We need you.

Thank you.

Nell Crowden is head of communications at the Saltus Forum</em>.