Being ‘resourceful’ in academic engagement with parliament

As universities are busy monitoring their timelines in the run up to REF 2021, institutional impact cases studies are being gathered, alongside high quality publications. Emphasis has been placed too, on supporting the submission and assessment of interdisciplinary research in the Research Excellence Framework (REF), through an Interdisciplinary Research Advisory Panel (IDAP).

It is worth reflecting on what cross-disciplinary ‘engagements with impact’ from research really means. And now that a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has been established, It is worth asking too, how university research could also further a key goal of the new regulatory body, Office for Students (OfS): that “every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers”.

Approximately half of all UK universities get around two-thirds of their income from student fees, so maybe it is time to think (and act) creatively around how research, teaching and external engagement activities – taken together – might be crafted to build narratives of impact for REF. At the same time, we might just be able to benefit our students, whose fees are keeping us all in business!

Engaging students to change the world and boosting your research impact

Engaging with UK Parliament: A Guide for UK Universities has just been released on the parliamentary web pages. This guide is intended to support university staff in developing informed and critically thinking skilled graduates. Written by academics from Aston University in collaboration with colleagues in Parliament, the guide brings together numerous points of contact as a quick reference document. So, regardless of their subject discipline, university educators can provide active and disruptive ‘worldly spaces’ in their taught modules linked to parliamentary systems, processes and people. This enables students to encounter difference and to address difficult questions relating to politics around their field of study and future roles in the workplace.

The launch was accompanied by a workshop at the Advance HE Annual Conference, held earlier in July. Attendees shared their ideas on how working with Parliament on both research and teaching (together) could save them time and also benefit their students.

Engagement with UK Parliament can help universities to enable active citizenship, support the development of informed and critically thinking skilled graduates, and ensure relevant knowledge and expertise informs political decision making.

Such work develops opportunities for generating publications and impact in partnership with our students. These activities and experiences can reveal to students the routes through which they can make a tangible difference to real world issues, whilst they are still a university student. This can later have further impact on them, in changing the direction their career takes, as a graduate.

Whilst there will always be a few challenges to introducing innovative real world engagements into the curriculum for students (e.g. time constraints, a full schedule, fear of change), we have learned (in compiling this resource) about a wealth of materials, groups and people in Parliament who are at our disposal. Parliamentary colleagues were happy to talk with us about teaching and research. In our Advance HE workshop colleagues shared exciting ways to develop both.

The Westminster goldmine

UK Parliament is a gold mine of resources that many university researchers already engage with. Alongside finding routes into showing impact from academic research through Parliament, it is worth reaping some additional benefits in relation to teaching and student engagement. Our resource is a starting point for developing your curriculum to include subject specific, active citizenship tasks and for enabling students to input into real political decision making. Furthermore, our institutions can proceed to submit dynamic impact case studies that also boast real world relevance for students. As we approach the implications from Brexit for UK Higher Education, this has never been more important.

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