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Academia: A brake on UN development goals

Head of the HEMIL Centre at the University of Bergen (UiB), Maurice Mittelmark, has now received support from the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) to improve this communication. WUN awards start-up funds to promising research projects amongst its members. The funding provides the researchers to compete for major funding and build a larger international platform for their work.

Both UiB applicants in this year's WUN allocation received funding. One of these is Mittelmark's Bridging Health Promotion and Sustainability Science, and the aim is to improve interdisciplinary researcher communication. The project is a collaboration between three UiB research environments: the Department of Health Promotion and Development, UiB Global, and the Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP).

Specialisation is the path to scientific progress. But poor communication and lack of cooperation are side effects of the traditional divisions in academia. This hinders optimal solutions to several of the planet's most serious social issues, says Mittelmark.

Dialogue between researchers

According to Mittelmark, progress has been made in environmental research and global health research in the last few years. Yet traditional boundaries in academia prevent a full-scale effect of this progress. Environmental researchers and health researchers far too often find themselves fenced in behind tradition, institute, and faculty.

If allowed to continue, this is bad news for the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDG), he says and points to areas such as improved mother and child health care or eradication of extreme poverty as areas that would benefit from a less rigorous approach from academia.

The first task of Mittelmark's project is to get researchers from different disciplines to enter into a proper dialogue on shared issues.

If we can get the researchers to talk, then the next step will be to create a coordinated work unit working on sustainable development and global health issues, Mittelmark enthuses. Health and the environment are so intertwined with each other that it is pointless to improve one without considering the other.

Transdisciplinary research approach

To combine the apparently contrasting impulses of specialisation and cooperation, Mittelmark suggests what he calls a transdisciplinary approach to research. This goes beyond standard interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary collaboration. He views this as a partnership that goes beyond academia to include politicians and outside experts as well.

Transdisciplinary research is all about engaging with real social issues rather than solving academic riddles, according to Mittelmark. This implies that the researchers take on board the views of others in understanding problems and suggesting solutions. The research process also involves experts from outside academia as equal partners with a knowledge and experience to compliment that of the researchers.

Medical doctors, social scientists, humanists, natural scientists, and experts from outside of academia will learn from one another and take on board each other's work processes, says Mittelmark.

Using the WUN funding, Mittelmark will arrange a major meeting in Bergen in May 2013. Here he will gather researchers from twelve universities and different academic traditions to kick-start a dialogue. The meeting will also provide the basis for applying for funding from the EU's Horizon 2020 programme.

Head of the Department of Philosophy, Reidar K. Lie, is the other UiB recipient of a WUN grant. This is awarded for the project Global Public Health Justice: The Ethics of Research for Public Health, which looks at how to achieve a fairer distribution of the world's health resources.


Contact: Maurice Mittelmark
The University of Bergen

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