Inside Kings - Professor Jonathan Grant:
Putting academia into action

Jonathan Grant at Policy Idol competition 2016

Professor Jonathan Grant may not be someone you’re already familiar with, but over the next few years the work he’s steering will have a profound effect on King’s. An alumnus of King’s, he returned in 2014 as Director of the Policy Institute and has since been appointed Assistant Principal for Strategy, where he will help guide the strategic vision of the university to 2029, King’s 200th anniversary.

SERVICE TO SOCIETY

An experienced and persuasive advocate for accountability, in his 2015 inaugural lecture Professor Grant made the case that it is vital to understand how science funding translates into policy if society is to benefit. With the Research Excellence Framework and the new Teaching Excellence Framework, universities have to prove their value. Professor Grant is confident that King’s has a head start and will only build on its already excellent performance. ‘Serving society is in our DNA,’ he says. ‘It’s part of our social contract and duty to demonstrate the value of our research and education.’

JOINING THE DOTS

Once a PhD student in King’s Department of Anatomy and Human Biology, Professor Grant understands the endurance and dedication required in research labs. ‘After graduating from the LSE, my tutor introduced me to a King’s geneticist who, unusually, needed a social scientist for his project,’ he says. ‘I spent several years working next to wet-lab space and the dissection room but did not enjoy the experience so, after gaining my PhD, I vowed to stay away from academia and embarked on a career in policy analysis and advice.’

Nearly two decades later, however, he was tempted back to King’s and the Policy Institute, where his refreshing, can-do attitude is building the university’s reputation in the policy sphere. ‘We have some of the brightest and best brains at King’s, but some academics struggle to translate and communicate their research into policy and practice,’ he says. ‘Our job is to facilitate that by providing an interface between our outstanding university and the world outside.’

KING’S AT THE HEART OF INFLUENCE

Over the last year, Professor Grant has attracted political heavyweights including Dame Margaret Hodge, Ed Balls, Charles Clarke, Lord Willetts and Baroness Jay to join as Visiting Professors and participate in events open to the King’s community.

Alongside former civil servants, journalists and independent thinkers, they are all members of the university’s high-level Policy Circle.

Professor Grant has also introduced the new ‘Policy Idol’ competition, encouraging students and staff to harness their blue-sky thinking and pitch world-changing ideas. Last year, student Vageesh Jain won with his case for reorganising the World Health Organisation following the Ebola crisis. His idea, together with pitches from all the finalists, was sent to every new MP in 2015.

This year, Research Assistant Elle Wadsworth and PhD candidate Lindsey Hines, both at the National Addictions Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, have just been crowned Policy Idol champions. Their pitch, ‘A greener UK: the roadmap to cannabis regulation’ outlined that prohibition has not discouraged use and that stronger strains are becoming common and leading to a potential public health crisis. The team argued for the introduction of an evidence-based policy that would be reviewed at every stage to monitor success.

‘These ideas only carry impact if they reach key policymakers,’ says Professor Grant. ‘Our position near Westminster and our reputation as a top UK university mean we are ideally placed to influence the national agenda,’ he says. ‘I hope that building relationships with policy leaders will be transformative for King’s.’

Your views: The future for King’s

In 2029, King’s will celebrate its 200th anniversary, and alumni are invited to contribute to the strategy that will take us there. Professor Grant, who will lead this work, explains why it is so important.

‘High quality research and education at King’s will remain important, but a third major area for us could be developing activities that impact directly on society,’ says Professor Grant who, as Assistant Principal for Strategy, is working with the King’s community to generate ideas. ‘Our support in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis is a good example, as well as our new Maths School for talented young Londoners.’

Make your voice heard

‘We need to respond to the challenges of an increasingly complex world,’ says Professor Grant. ‘Alumni can play an important role in contributing to this new vision for King’s.’

A Green Paper on King’s draft strategy will be published and made available to the King’s community. Alumni are encouraged to comment on this paper and contribute their ideas ahead of the final document being launched in January 2017.

You will be able to read the green paper and give your views until 9 June.

Find out more at alumni.kcl.ac.uk/ Strategic Vision2029