2.1 An important part of the development of the Academy is to consider the feasibility and develop the operation of a professionally staffed Policy and Advocacy Unit for the Academy.
2.2 The CMS Green Paper on the Academy, published in October 2021, stated that one of the expected functions of the Academy would be to have a well-resourced and professional Policy Unit to respond rapidly to political trends and events which affect the entire mathematical sciences. Additionally, it suggested that the Academy should proactively lead discussions on policy topics around broader areas which require mathematical sciences input, e.g. AI, Net Zero, quantum computing, circular economy, biodiversity, ethics.
2.3 The Green Paper noted that: “It is recognised that there are three principal functions of the Policy Unit. First is ‘mathematical sciences for policy’, i.e. to ensure that mathematical sciences inputs to government policy across all areas, bringing rigorous evidence-based analysis to decision making. Second, ‘policy for mathematical sciences’’, aims to develop strong policy papers, driven by data, consideration of equality, diversity and inclusion, key stakeholders etc., to ensure the health and vitality of the whole mathematical sciences community. Finally, there is a need to create a broad base of ‘mathematicians for policy’, willing and able to demonstrate the underpinning rationale and arguments for the policy papers.”
2.4 For example, mathematical sciences for policy might include putting further mathematical insights in front of policymakers, for example on pandemic disease modelling, modelling on how we can achieve Net Zero, or the regulation and growth of Artificial Intelligence in public services and the economy more broadly. Policy for mathematical sciences might include supporting the case for more funding for mathematical sciences research, practical approaches to mathematics teacher recruitment and retention, or gathering data to understand the diversity of mathematical scientists.
2.5 Other areas, particularly across the STEM disciplines, have shown how such organisations can have a positive impact on their discipline and in raising the profile and impact of their discipline more broadly, for example, the Royal Academy of Engineering’s National Engineering Policy Centre and the British Computer Society.
2.6 One example of an area in which an Academy might engage is on the commitment that all young people study some form of mathematical sciences to 18 in England, which was made by the Prime Minister on 3 January and then reconfirmed more recently on 17 April. The Academy will wish to consider, even in proto-phase, the extent to which it engages with and comments on this policy aspiration.
2.7 There is no existing Policy Unit covering the entire mathematical sciences portfolio and the concept was welcomed as being needed by the Council of Mathematical Sciences (CMS) constituent bodies, and by the broader mathematics community who contributed to the various consultations including to the Green Paper.
Establishing a Policy Unit
2.8 It has quickly become apparent that there is in principle no need to wait for the full Academy to come into existence before undertaking some policy work, and that if we could do so it would help to demonstrate the effectiveness of a body like the Academy in providing a voice for mathematics.
2.9 We have held a range of conversations with existing bodies, including the policy units of the British Computer Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, as well as undertaking desk research on other policy and advocacy organisations such as the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE). It is clear that to be effective there must be an element of advocacy within a Policy Unit. This means that decisions need to be made as to whether the Academy wishes, for example, to be a ‘trusted advisor’ to government, or more of an activist, campaigning organisation. It is possible to have different approaches for different issues – but the approach for one issue will influence how the Academy is seen on others. Our aim is to be authoritative, compelling and persuasive, bringing the weight of views from across the mathematical sciences community, and helping to make them count, and to make a difference to policy and funding decisions. This is discussed in the Advocacy section below and further views on this are welcome.
2.10 As a starting point, the Academy put a business case to the Isaac Newton Institute (INI) in autumn 2022 to use some of the funding allocated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to the INI, in order to initiate a Policy (and Advocacy) Unit. It was felt that a realistic start – which would provide enough resource to at least get work going – would be to employ two FTE staff for two years. This has been approved, job descriptions written (with advice from other policy units), and it is hoped to have staff in place by autumn 2023. Those roles will be advertised shortly.
2.11 We are clear that this is just the start. It is hoped and expected that if this small unit can prove its worth, and the Academy is given the full go-ahead, the Unit will grow. Clearly activity in the short term needs to be commensurate with funding availability.
Clarifying initial policy priority activities
2.12 The Academy might expect to have a number of core areas in which it proactively develops policy positions and/or undertakes [policy] research, with some capacity to respond reactively as new areas emerge on which the Academy wishes to take a stance. A list is emerging of the core areas/activities (not necessarily in order of importance) which includes:
Policy for mathematical sciences:
- Quantifying the value of mathematics to the UK – possibly a refresh of the 2013 Deloitte Report, to include collecting data on the extent and effectiveness of knowledge exchange.
- The people pipeline – including school qualifications (such as maths to 18), teacher supply and retention, and the availability of mathematical sciences undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
- Measuring baseline data across a wide range of equality and diversity characteristics.
- Collating a searchable repository of existing reports and data on the mathematical sciences.
Mathematical sciences for policy:
- Convening and brokering relationships, for example between government and external mathematical sciences experts to complement and strengthen existing links and researchers employed within government..
- Responding to calls for evidence from government select committees, for example around the role and limitations of machine learning, the need for diversity in STEM etc.
Ways of working
2.13 The Academy – including in proto stage – is intending to develop processes for gathering, prioritising and signing off work, both in the immediate term so that we can make best use of the new staff, and longer term so that we can steer the direction of the Policy Unit.
2.14 The Policy Unit needs to be agile and responsive to issues as they arise. It must act in line with the vision and mission of the Academy to ensure that those outside the mathematical community are aware of the importance and value of mathematics.
2.15 The Unit will be exected to develop policy positions on a range of issues informed by the existing Academy workstreams, expertise from the Executive Committee and Advisory Board and the wider community. These positions would have broad consensus, while being sensitive to the many different constituencies within the community.
2.16 The Policy Unit will work with the Knowledge Exchange Hub for the Mathematical Sciences ensuring that any activities that relate to joint interests are coordinated between the two. See Section 5 for more about the interactions with the KE Hub.
Q2. Are there other areas that you would like the Academy to focus on in its policy and advocacy portfolio, beyond those in this consultation (paragraph 2.12)?
Q3. What prioritisation would you place on items in the list above (2.12), and any other areas you have in mind?