In his inaugural speech as incoming President of the British Academy, Lord Stern of Brentford today (18 July) set out his vision, saying: “I believe that we are at a historic point of change. The world faces a lack of trust in institutions and a lack of confidence in existing ideas and models: it is hungry for new insights into meaning, identity and policy.”
Lord Stern emphasised that the Academy’s great strength and foundation is its Fellowship of eminent academics. Research and the creativity of scholarly work lies at the very heart of the Academy, enabling it to lead and speak on behalf of the humanities and social sciences – advancing the interests and values of the wider academic community, and to playing a significant part in public life. “The power of ideas”, Lord Stern said, “should never be underestimated.”
“There is decline in membership of political parties, a lack of public engagement in political issues, especially amongst the young. These processes are magnified and intensified by the revolution in communications and social media. A crucial part of the public political arena, the quality and quantity of questioning and the serious discussion of evidence, is shrinking before our eyes. We will all be the losers if this continues. This is, I think, a world-wide phenomenon but it is intense in the UK.”
He continued: “What is urgently needed is a new focus on public discussion of a host of difficult challenges. What kind of society do we seek to live in and what are the roles of individual and community responsibilities? How can we rekindle economic growth and development that can last and is responsible, that delivers through its activities and products the kind of outcomes and lives that people find fulfilling? We should drive public debate forward on issues that face us all – issues such as ageing, migration, well-being, liberty and equity, and environment and climate change. These all require deep understanding and reflection, for which research from the humanities and social sciences is essential.”
Lord Stern also announced plans for a new series of high-profile public events from 2014 organised by the Academy. The British Academy Debates will be held across the country, presenting cutting edge academic research, and involving participants from the media, government and civil service. They will cover themes such as Ageing, and Immigration, sparking public debate and discussion on some of the great challenges of our society.
Lord Stern of Brentford joins a roster of major figures in the academic and public life of the UK, including Sir Keith Thomas, Sir Isaiah Berlin and Baroness O’Neill. He succeeds Professor Sir Adam Roberts after a four-year tenure. Lord Stern will be the first President from the LSE since Lord Robbins in 1962.
A leading British economist and academic, Lord Stern was elected as a Fellow of the Academy in 1993. Since 2007 he has been the IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government, and also Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. He has taught and researched at universities around the world including Oxford, Warwick, MIT, the College de France and the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, the People’s University of China and the Indian Statistical Institute. He was knighted for services to economics in 2004.
Throughout his distinguished career, he has made a major contribution to the economics of public policy and to development economics. As head of the Government Economic Service, he led the ground-breaking Stern Review on the economics of climate change, published in 2006, which has had great influence around the world. He has been Chief Economist of the EBRD and of the World Bank and has served as adviser to governments, businesses and NGOs in many countries and as Second Permanent Secretary of the UK Treasury.
Lord Stern’s inaugural speech as President of the British Academy can be downloaded in full from the British Academy website.