July 2014 newsletter – The Bank of England’s Engagement with Academia

Stephen Millard explains the Bank of England’s current efforts to increase its engagement with the academic community.

At the April meeting of CHUDE, I discussed the work that the Bank of England has done over the past year to increase its engagement with the academic community. In this brief article, I discuss why the Bank has embarked on this initiative, what precisely we have been doing, and to what we would like to see this effort leading in the future.

A key goal of the Bank is to make sure that we are at the forefront of research and analysis. And one way of helping us to get to that position is for us to engage with those researchers outside of the Bank who are already at the forefront of research and analysis in areas of interest to the Bank: macroeconomics, monetary economics, banking, finance, monetary policy and the transmission mechanism, the arguments for, and effects of, macroprudential regulation, the arguments for, and effects of, microprudential regulation, and the intersections between these different areas. One particular group with whom we already engage to some degree are economists based in universities. But it is not always clear that we know the right academic economists, nor the right researchers in other disciplines, who may be able to shed light on problems of interest to us. We have tended to rely on personal contacts, but there are likely to be many researchers in acadaemia whom we simply do not know and there is likely to be much more work being done on issues of interest to us than we know about.

So our vision is a world in which we know exactly who is working in the areas of interest to the Bank, and where they are based, so we know exactly who to call for insights on any particular issue as it arises: ie, we have a ‘little black book of expertise’. Furthermore, we want to be in the position of having strong enough links with acadaemia that we can encourage academic researchers and their PhD students to work on particular questions in which we have a clear interest.

What have we done so far?
At a very micro level, we helped to set up the Centre for Macroeconomics (a joint venture with the London School of Economics, University College, London, the London Business School and Cambridge University) and several of our researchers are members of this. One of the Centre's activities is a quarterly ‘London Macroeconomics Workshop’ (involving researchers from various London Universities as well as us). We also have a group of Visiting Researchers who come into the Bank from time to time on an informal basis as well as a number of academic consultants.

But, we are anxious to engage with academic researchers in other areas of economics, in other disciplines, and from a much wider geographical area than simply London and the South East of England. To that end, researchers at the Bank have embarked on a series of visits to university departments throughout the United Kingdom. These visits have given us the opportunities to find out who is working on areas of interest to us and where, to let academic researchers throughout the country know the key questions on which we’ve been working, and to present, and obtain feedback on, some of our own research.

To further this cause, the Bank has also worked with the ESRC’s Money, Macro and Finance Research Group (MMF) on a couple of initiatives. First, we put together a ‘Drinks Reception’ for junior economists (PhD’s and those within five years of completion) at last year’s MMF Annual Conference at Queen Mary College, London, which was well attended. As I write, we are currently organising a repeat of this for this year’s MMF Conference in Durham. Second, together with the MMF and the University of Warwick, we organised a Macroeconomics Workshop for final year PhD students in Warwick in April. The aim of this workshop was to give PhD economists an opportunity to present their work in front of a ‘critical but friendly’ audience of senior academics and policy makers as a way of disseminating their research and, more importantly, honing their presentation skills ahead of the job market. Again, we hope to make this an annual event.

Future plans
Perhaps the most obvious way in which we plan to increase our engagement with the academic community over the coming months is by publishing our key research questions for all to read. The idea is that, by doing this, we will open up our research agenda to contributions from external academic researchers from all over the world. Such contributions could take the form of research within the academic sector, joint research between academic researchers and bank staff, bank staff presenting their work at academic seminars and conferences and receiving comments, or, more informally, chats by e-mail, phone or over coffee. One particular way that the academic world can contribute to our research is via PhD students working on questions that fall within our agenda. Typically, PhD students have the time and either have, or will develop, the technical skills needed to do research but do not necessarily know where to apply these skills; in contrast, we have an almost endless list of questions with only a finite resource with which to answer them. The gains from trade here are clear!

Finally, to help further encourage the exchange of thoughts, ideas and research questions, we intend to continue visiting universities, both within the United Kingdom and further afield, presenting our work at seminars, making new contacts and renewing old acquaintances. And we aim, of course, to maintain the relationships that we have built up over the past few years by via inviting academics into the bank to give seminars, participate in roundtables or simply visit bank researchers.

The opportunity is there for increased engagement. We want to engage more with the academic community; we hope that academics will take the opportunity to engage more with us.