We’re not even halfway through term and we have two projects starting up, one nearing completion, 100+ new applications, a new research group and a world-leading academic adviser (watch this space on that one). So now Michaelmas is well underway, it seemed appropriate to provide a quick update on OxPolicy’s direction and agenda for the term.
Following unprecedented interest from students, especially new freshers, OxPolicy’s mailing list has grown substantially this term. Indeed, we had c. 100 applications for researcher positions. By the second round, this has reduced to around 20, and we now have 10 final researchers.
From the sign-up form that was circulated in -1 week, it was clear that Oxford students wanted to focus on the bigger picture issues. How to reconcile this with OxPolicy’s longstanding history of UK-centricity in its focus was a real challenge. Nonetheless, OxPolicy has adapted over in the past and will continue to do so in future. For instance, OxPolicy has increasingly moved from local issues to national issues in its focus. This was cemented by our representation at the UK Student Policy Forum last year: a platform which allowed us to prevent our best and most recent research which addressed issues of UK-wide policy concern.
While it doesn’t seem appropriate for OxPolicy to become a vessel for discussion of global priorities, it is clear that student minds are increasingly focused on the bigger picture questions in the policy space. We had overwhelming interest in AI and Climate Change, for instance, in our initial sign-ups. Indeed, the best way to both motivate, and harness the motivation of, keen undergraduates and seasoned postgraduate researchers is to address content which is relevant to our globalised world. The need to mirror this increasing focus on big-picture concerns is clear.
However, OxPolicy is essentially an Oxford-oriented organsiation, having grown out of Oxford Hub: our former parent organisation. Our roots in local and UK and policy (at the larger scale end of things) are eminently clear if you peruse our archive of student research. So to balance this past with an exciting future in global policy is a challenging act of organisational orientation.
To reconcile these forces in tension, the proposal is as follows. Our work can be as global as we like: from climate change to AI policy as our members wish, but we have to be able to trace our impact back to the welfare of UK citizens and concrete recommendations for UK actors. The local angle on climate change might be improving local incentives to reduce emissions. We could, for instance, spotlight the local debate on air pollution, which has sparked a forthcoming ban on emitting vehicles in the city centre.
On the national side of things, we could look at how the UK government should act, given the development of AI as a security issue. We could also look at, in classic wonkish fashion, how policymakers should respond to the labour market impact of automation. At the local level, this could be as simple as introducing self-service check-outs and the influence this has had on staff pay along Cornmarket street and St. Giles.
There may be a first-pass tension between the scale of the issues our members want to address and our history as a local and national organisation. Yet I think there’s a golden mean between the global challenges that excite generation Z academics and the local focus that OxPolicy has previously championed: advising on global issues in a way that yields tangible, national impact.
I’m extremely excited to announce the creation a new Oxford AI Policy Lab that will be doing exactly that and the launch of a new project on climate policy: both of which will be making UK-specific recommendations. With a view to presenting these at the next annual UK Student Policy Forum, I’m excited that OxPolicy is on the right track and continuing its tradition of producing meaningful and rigorous papers.