How can universities tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities of Brexit?

Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law, University of Bristol Law School

Brexit will present the UK with a vast number of political, economic, social, and legal challenges and opportunities in the months and years ahead. In this short piece, Professor Phil Syrpis reflects on the steps taken within the University of Bristol to begin to tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities.

From the time that it became clear, on the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, that the UK had voted to leave the EU, academics have been absorbing, reacting to, and in some cases seeking to shape, the political agenda. Events have been occurring at a dizzying pace. David Cameron was swiftly replaced by Theresa May; Parliament, after Gina Miller’s Supreme Court victory, voted to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of exiting the EU; White Papers and Negotiating Guidelines were issued; and we are now set for a General Election on 8 June, which looks set to be dominated by Brexit (that’s one of the very few predictions I feel able to make). Continue reading

Research, Impact and the UK Parliament – Event Report

Katie Drax, Honorary Research Assistant at the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG)

Science can inform how society is run so research can have implications for public and private policy. But how? How can research feed into policy-making, i.e. evidence-based policy? For those who don’t have a clue about parliamentary actions or how they relate to academics’ work the “Research, Impact and the UK Parliament” event series is a good way to get to grips with Parliament and research.

Starting at 10 a.m. we pinned name badges to our shirts and busied ourselves by riffling through the Houses of Parliament tote bags placed on our seats. Thankfully the event did not require much prior knowledge since it was assumed the majority of attendees were ignorant about the workings of Parliament and so the first presentation was a 30 minute crash course on the subject. Continue reading

Industrial strategy: some lessons from the past

Dr Hugh Pemberton
Reader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol, Department of History

Industrial strategy is back on the government’s agenda, with a promise to produce a ‘match fit’ economy that ‘works for everyone’ and is able to thrive after Brexit. As yet, however, there is little sign of the promised broadly-based and coherent industrial strategy emerging. In crafting it, explains Hugh Pemberton, its architects may profitably look back to the 1960s for some pointers.

For nearly a century, governments have tried to shape Britain’s industrial and commercial landscape. Yet, whilst they often wanted to raise industry’s efficiency and competitiveness, historically there was little consensus on how best to do it. And, whilst ‘industrial policy’ and ‘regional policy’ were often in evidence, the crafting of a broader ‘industrial strategy’ was a rarer event. Continue reading

What does Trump mean for the environment?

Ed Atkins, PhD student in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies

Ed Atkins, PhD student in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

Several weeks ago, I was walking along Avenida Paulista in São Paulo. Through the noise of the traffic, the familiar shout of one man’s name could be heard. ‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ echoed across the street.  Somehow I had stumbled upon a ‘Brazilians for Trump’ rally. A group of 40 people stood on the pavement, clutching signs that read ‘Women for Trump’, ‘Jews for Trump’, ‘Gays for Trump’. This struck me; such demographics holding such signage represented for me a similar message to ‘trees for deforestation’.

Yet, the votes are in. The electoral tally has been made and one fact is obvious: Donald Trump’s popularity transcended demography. As, House Speaker, Paul Ryan has said, Trump “heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard. He connected in ways with people that no one else did. He turned politics on its head.”

By Map by Robert Simmon, based on data from Woods Hole Research Center. (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=76697) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

2011 map of the United States above-ground woody biomass with 66 ecoregions delineated, showing tons of trees and their forests by hectare. Based on the map and palette created by NASA’s Earth Observatory employee Robert Simmon. Credit – Robert Simmon NASA/Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Key here is not only Trump’s victory, but also how the Republican Party has been able to ride his coattails to majorities across both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In doing so, the Grand Old Party (GOP), working with Trump, will likely have the freedom to pursue their political agenda. As a result, the Republican platform, published at the 2016 National Convention, provides a number of clues of what we can expect from this new administration. Continue reading

Independent verification of the UK’s greenhouse gas report: holding the Government to account

PhD student, Atmospheric Chemistry Research Group, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol

Dan Say, PhD student, Atmospheric Chemistry Research Group, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol

In the early hours of October 15th, negotiators from over 170 countries finalised a legally binding accord, designed to counter the effects of climate change by way of phasing down emissions of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These gases, introduced to replace the ozone-depleting CFCs and HCFCs for which the original Montreal Protocol was drafted, are typically used as coolants in air-conditioning systems. Unfortunately, like their predecessors, they are potent greenhouse gases, whose climate forcing effect per molecule is often many thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide.  Continue reading

How mathematics can fight the abuse of big data algorithms

Prof Alan Champneys,  Professor of Applied Non-linear Mathematics, University of Bristol

Prof Alan Champneys, Professor of Applied Non-linear Mathematics, University of Bristol

“Is maths creating an unfair society?” That seems to be the question on many people’s lips. The rise of big data and the use of algorithms by organisations has left many blaming mathematics for modern society’s ills – refusing people cheap insurance, giving false credit ratings, or even deciding who to interview for a job.

We have been here before. Following the banking crisis of 2008, some argued that it was a mathematical formula that felled Wall Street. The theory goes that the same model that was used to price sub-prime mortgages was used for years to price life assurance policies. Once it was established that dying soon after a loved one (yes, of a broken heart) was a statistical probability, a formula was developed to work out what the increased risk levels were.

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Unequal political rights: the case for immigrant suffrage in the UK

Dr Sean Fox, Lecturer in Urban Geography and Global Development, University of Bristol

Dr Sean Fox, Lecturer in Urban Geography and Global Development, University of Bristol

The distribution of political rights in the UK undermines the assumption of equality that underpins democratic practice, writes Sean Fox. He makes the case for extending voting rights to all legal immigrants living in the UK – whose lives are affected by government decisions as much as those who, by virtue of their citizenship, get to have a say in elections.

The vote to leave the EU was fundamentally undemocratic. Theresa May’s clear determination to plough ahead with Brexit therefore compounds an act of injustice that reveals a basic flaw at the heart of Britain’s electoral system. If this seems a provocative opening salvo for a radical cosmopolitan polemic, you may be surprised by the current distribution of voting rights in the UK.

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Putting Britain First: The Sino-UK ‘Golden Era’ with Theresa May Characteristics

Dr Winnie King, Teaching Fellow, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies

Dr Winnie King, Teaching Fellow, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

“The golden era of British-Chinese relations will continue,” Prime Minister Theresa May stated September 2nd on her way to the G20 in Hangzhou, China. Will it however, be the 24 carat of the days of Cameron and Osborne? Or have delays linked to Hinkley Point irrevocably tarnished the gleam of relations?

If President Xi Jinping’s statement during the G20 Summit is any indication, he is willing to ‘show patience,’ giving Mrs. May time to frame and launch her vision of British foreign policy and economic relations.

As one who seems to keeps her cards close to her chest, the question is what shape will this come in?

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Life in the House of Commons Library

Madeline Burke, PhD Student, Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials

Madeline Burke, PhD Student, Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials, University of Bristol

As a PhD student I rarely get exposed to aspects of academic life such has grant writing, policy and management.  So when the opportunity came up to apply for a 3 month internship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), I jumped at the chance.

POST, as it is known, is based at the heart of Westminster. It serves both Houses of Parliament in providing impartial advice to parliamentarians on science and technology policy issues; often in the form of briefing papers called POSTnotes. POST was formed by a group of MPs and Peers concerned at the lack of scientific evidence available to influence Parliamentary policy and in 2001 both Houses decided that POST should be established as a permanent bicameral institution.

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Engaging with the Policy-making and Scrutiny Process in Wales: How Does Research Get into the National Assembly for Wales?

Lauren Carter-Davies, Public Policy Institute for Wales

Lauren Carter-Davies, Public Policy Institute for Wales

In addition to our remit to support Welsh Government Ministers to identify their evidence needs and provide them with independent expert advice and analysis, the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW) is trying to play a broader role in developing the ‘evidence ecosystem’ in Wales – the networks and channels through which evidence can inform policy and practice. We think that it’s important that Assembly Members who are involved in scrutinising policy and legislation also have access to authoritative independent policy experts.

The National Assembly for Wales is a democratically elected body with three main roles: representing the interests of Wales and its people, making laws for Wales, and holding the Welsh Government to account through policy scrutiny. In fulfilling these roles, the Assembly is a big consumer of research and is always looking to make links with independent sources of expertise. Specifically, the National Assembly for Wales Research Service provides impartial research and information to support Assembly Members and committees in fulfilling the scrutiny, legislative and representative functions of the Assembly. Providing an effective Research Service requires access to research from external organisations and individuals with knowledge and expertise in relevant subject areas. Continue reading