Many academics would scoff at the very idea of asking this question. To them, it is so self-evidently obvious that research should be funded by the taxpayer that they view the question as preposterous.
In these recessionary times, the prevailing paradigm is that academic research should be a driver of growth in the real economy. Thus, much of the language around universities these days involves words like innovation, enterprise, start-ups, knowledge economy etc. But let’s suppose (with good reason I believe) that the direct contribution of academic research to the economy is likely to be small, except in some niche areas where small numbers of highly qualified people are employed.
Now, if we put those immediate and relatively small economic benefits of academic research aside, what exactly are the main benefits? If you had to walk into a sort of Dragon’s Den full of hard-nosed, sceptical policy-makers who control the purse strings, what would you say in your pitch? How would you sell academic research in an evidence-based way such that the bottom-liners would buy it?
I’ll leave that with you as I head off to the sun for a couple of weeks! Maybe I’ll try to answer it when I come home and if anyone wants to do a guest post on this blog (on this topic) I’ll be happy to oblige.