Bridging the gap between academia and government

On Thursday 28 March, the Buchanan Institute at the University of Edinburgh held its second annual policy forum to discuss the future of policy in Scotland. The event showcased the research done by students at the Institute this past academic year. 

The Buchanan Institute is Scotland’s first student-led think tank, which facilitates solution-oriented discussion, research, and communication to produce innovative policy proposals. Students meet in a weekly workspace on Wednesday evenings. In these sessions, students are taught research skills during the first semester, and techniques for lobbying stakeholders in the second. 

When asked about the platform of the Institute by The Student, research director Nina Pušić commented: “In the heart of the Scottish capital, we have access to countless governance events and trailblazing active community organisations, intersecting with world-class research from academics at our university.”

Having organised themselves into teams and decided on a policy topic of interest, students are given the rest of the year to see where their research takes them. The policy forum is an opportunity to present on these findings. 

To start off the event, the Institute welcomed Lesley Martin, a Fellowship Councillor for The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, as the keynote speaker. Her speech focused on the importance of agenda setting for policy reform and the responsibility of student engagement in the university’s “third academic mission” to partner with local and regional governments for the benefit of both institutions. 

This year, the event focused on three policy project presentations students had researched and lobbied throughout the academic year, ranging from local, regional, and international topics. The presentations ranged from the empirical examples from the 100 Resilient Cities Initiative lack of inclusion of “climate migrants,” to as far as findings exposing the underreported civilian death rates for drone and air strikes carried out by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence using Syria as its case study.

The two initial presentations exmeplified the efforts of students to research topics with international significance. Furthermore, the group focusing on drone and air strikes acknowledged that although the student group are aware of the difficulty of impacting military policy, they hope to spread awareness of this issue.

The final presentation focused on an issue closer to home; the group offered tactics and recommendations on how the University of Edinburgh could reduce food waste. According to the study, food waste statistics at the university are largely unclear or under reported. The team revealed that when reaching out to the Accommodation, Catering, and Events team (ACE), the ACE proved to be extremely difficult to get in touch with. 

Although there are some initiatives in place across the city and the university, such as the app Too Good To Go and the reduction of food prices at university-run shops when items are nearing their best before dates, there is still a long way to go before the problem is eradicated. 

The Buchanan Institute’s Policy Forum serves as a reminder of the importance of student engagement in policy reform. Speaking to The Student, president Connor Hounslow said that one of the chief issue facing the Institute is “looking at what the role of education is going forward and how we actively engage as students.”

“Due to our access to the university institution, we have immediate relationships with academics, yet also generally have very flexible schedules compared to that of working people,” Nina Pušić told The Student. “This means students are in the ideal position to do research for policy, getting expert feedback from academics while having the time to attend and facilitate key stakeholder meetings with community and governmental organisations in the the city.” 

It is with the evolving role of higher education, that it is possible now more than ever for unique and innovative establishments such as the Buchanan Institute to provide students with a platform to effect real world change both at school and in their community. 


Image: Nina Pusic

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