Glasgow School of Art sets an example for academia

One of the more interesting documents to pass across my desk this week was the Directory of Experts, subtitled A guide to expert opinion at The Glasgow School of Art. Constituting a list of academic staff, listed alphabetically, the slim volume simply states their areas of expertise, the media they are available for comment to – press, radio or TV – and their contact details.

It sounds logical enough, but what is remarkable about this directory is that it exists. All design colleges can boast a cast of experts, but how many of them are this accessible to the media and beyond? Hardly any, judging from our experiences at Design Week.

The only academics a journalist tends to know are the ones who push themselves forward, and even then they can be very hard to track down a second time. Yet many of them have valuable knowledge to impart to the industry at large – or, indeed, to the general public – gleaned either through their own work or through that of their students.

We have to thank the staff of the Marketing and Development Office at Glasgow School of Art for publishing this handy guide and hope that their counterparts at colleges across the country will learn from the venture. But I suspect we also have to thank Professor Norman McNally, former head of Glasgow’s School of Product Design, for this move towards transparency.

McNally has always been an activist in education circles and beyond and a regular participant in debates and initiatives to build relationships between the schools and the ‘real world’ of design. He was, for example, party to a seminar staged by the then Design Council director of design and innovation Clive Grinyer three or four years ago, which called for research theses to be ‘translated’ into words and formats that those outside of academia can understand.

There is still a great need for this translation to happen if the research is ever to spark new ideas that have a practical commercial application. Otherwise, the papers are doomed to gather dust on library shelves or be locked within digital systems, pulled out only by students pursuing similar lines of enquiry. Fortunately, industry ‘partnerships’ with colleges such as London’s Royal College of Art are grounding research more firmly in reality, but more can be done.

The Glasgow directory is a small example of what can be achieved, given the will to promote a college on all fronts, not least for the expertise it embodies. And the media aren’t the only ones likely to find it useful. Such a document could open many doors, possibly even for industry sponsors keen to work with colleges but not always sure who to contact and how.

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