The Learned Society of Wales: The establishment and launch of Wales’s first national scholarly academy
The Learned Society of Wales was launched in May 2010, as the country’s first and only all-embracing national scholarly academy. At that time, more than a decade after the devolution of political powers, Wales still lacked the range of independent national organisations that other parts of the UK enjoyed. In particular, Wales lacked an academy of learning that specifically sought to reflect and address its needs – an academy of the kind that had long existed in Scotland and Ireland as well as in other parts of the world. The establishment of the Learned Society of Wales was, therefore, a significant milestone in the development of academic, intellectual and civic life in Wales. It meant that, for the first time, the country’s intellectual vitality could be properly represented and promoted on the international stage and its people, politicians and policy-makers could gain access to the sort of well-researched, scholarly and objective advice on issues of key importance that had long been enjoyed in other countries.
The Society’s purpose and ethos are encapsulated in its strapline, Celebrating Scholarship and Serving the Nation. Very early on, it set for itself the short- to medium-term Strategic Aim of developing:
as a sustainable organisation that is fit for purpose and that is acknowledged both as the recognised representative of the world of Welsh learning internationally and as a source of authoritative, scholarly and critical comment and advice to the National Assembly and other bodies on policy issues affecting Wales.
Although it will reach maturity only over many years, the Learned Society of Wales has already successfully raised its profile and secured recognition within the higher education and government sectors in Wales, as well as more generally. This recognition culminated in the decision taken by Her Majesty in Council in June 2015 (that is, a little more than five years after the launch) to approve the Society’s Petition for a Royal Charter. By then, the Society had more than three hundred and eighty Fellows, distinguished men and women from all branches of learning, who had a clear connection with Wales, through birth or residence, or in other ways. Most of them were based in Wales, but a significant number were living and working in other parts of the United Kingdom and beyond.
During its first five years, the Society promoted and supported scholarship and facilitated informed debate and public interaction on a wide range of issues and subjects, including university funding, higher education legislation, research funding and policy, science policy, the National Assembly’s legislative role, and policy in the areas of culture, heritage and language. In doing so, it achieved a significant place in the intellectual and public life of Wales.
Wales now has an academy of learning that, over time and appropriately supported, can take its place among the established academies of the United Kingdom, as well as those that flourish across Europe, in North America and beyond. The Society can look forward with confidence to building upon its initial successes.