The Wilberforce Society

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The Wilberforce Society
Formation2009; 10 years ago (2009)
TypePublic policy / Think tank
HeadquartersUniversity of Cambridge
Lord Wilson of Dinton

The Wilberforce Society (TWS) is an independent, non-partisan, student think tank, named after MP, Cambridge alumnus and abolitionist William Wilberforce, based at the University of Cambridge.[1] It was founded in 2009 and is a registered charity.[2] TWS aims to "promote constructive and intelligent debate" around the University of Cambridge, and "represents the views of moderate students," offering undergraduates and graduates "the opportunity to become involved with policy conception and analysis with the possibility of genuine impact." TWS follows an independent, diverse and non-partisan policy agenda set by the executive committee, but also carries out commissions for external organisations and public figures, which have included members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.[citation needed]

Its work has included producing recommendations on the drafting of the new Tunisian constitution for submission in 2012 to the National Constituent Assembly.[3]

Governance and Functioning[edit]

The Wilberforce Society works in two main areas. Commissioned work comes from both private sector organisations and public bodies.[4] For such assignments, members of the society group into committees, which work corporately over a period of weeks or months to produce a research paper. The paper is presented in an open lecture in front of academics, students, and members of the general public.

The second type of work is through individual and small group production of proposals. These proposals are then discussed at open meetings, to which a guest expert is invited. The guest helps establish the background of the policy area and helps to determine a suitable approach to the topic. Most proposals are published on the think tank's website.[5]

In addition to policy research, the Society functions at the centre of Cambridge student political life, as a focal point for mutual dialogue between students and frontline policymakers.[6][7][8] TWS Ideas events provide a relaxed setting for informal debates on broad questions of public policy.

The Society has established links with YouGov, the UK opinion polling and market research company. YouGov data is also used in policy papers.

Previous policy research has included commissions from Stephen Barclay MP,[9] End Rape on Campus,[10] and Daniel Zeichner MP.

The Wilberforce also collaborates significantly with other think-tanks, such as OxPolicy, the Oxford student-run think-tank.[11]

Annual Conference[edit]

The Wilberforce Society holds an annual conference. Previous speakers include Richard Kemp, Maajid Nawaz and the Rt Hon Rhodri Morgan. The 2013 conference was titled "We don't need no education?" and speakers included Lord Glasman and Martin Rees. The title for the 2014 conference was “Small Island. Big World. Visions of Britain in a Global Era” and was hosted at the Cambridge Union Society in early 2014. The 2015 conference, titled 'The Lost Generation', focused on youth disengagement, broken down into three sessions discussing employment, justice and politics. [12][13] The 2016 conference, titled 'Technology: Challenging and Changing the State?' and examined E-Democracy, Technological Unemployment, Artificial Intelligence and Digital Media. The 2017 conference was titles "Global Disenchantment", examining the themes of Economic Disillusionment, Violent Extremism, Environmental Inaction and Dysfunction in the International Community, with speakers including Lord Stewart Wood and Brendan Simms.


In June 2010, Lord Wilson of Dinton, former Head of the Home Civil Service, became Chair of the Board of Patrons of the Wilberforce Society. The Board also includes Baroness Prashar, Lord Kilclooney, Lord Rees of Ludlow, Lord Deben and Professor Andrew Gamble.

In July 2013 the Wilberforce Society was nominated in the "One to Watch" category at the Prospect Magazine annual think tank awards.[14]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Dasgupta, Riddhi; Bangham, George (2012-10-15). The New Constitution of Tunisia: Choices and Decisions : The Wilberforce Society University of Cambridge. Booktango.
  4. ^ Crawshaw, Richard (2015-07-16). "Bored of party politics on campus? Think about thinktanks". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  5. ^ "The Wilberforce Society".
  6. ^ "What might an English Parliament look like? The Constitution Unit is consulting on the design options | British Academy". British Academy. Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  7. ^ ESI, European Stability Initiative - (2017-02-03). "European Stability Initiative - ESI". Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  8. ^ "Prominent Economists Who Advocate a Different Type of Quantitative Easing - Positive Money". Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  9. ^ "Steve Barclay MP". Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  10. ^ "Rape awareness campaign launched by Cambridgeshire police". University of Cambridge. 2016-01-06. Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  11. ^ Evans, Ben (2016-05-08). "OxPolicy and admissions: a review". Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  12. ^ "'Young people need a meaningful education in politics'".
  13. ^ "twsconference".
  14. ^ "Think tank of the year - Prospect Magazine".

External links[edit]