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A Framework for Higher Education in Scotland: Higher Education Review Phase 2


A Framework for Higher Education in Scotland: Higher Education Review Phase 2

5 Research and Knowledge Transfer

Main messages

Key challenges for research and knowledge transfer will be: continuing to compete successfully for the best people in an increasingly competitive world; and ensuring research plays an increasing part in Scotland's economic and social well-being, delivering the most gains possible for the Scottish economy and our quality of life. Research and scholarship should also feed directly into the provision of teaching. This will require:

  • Strategic and selective investment in infrastructure to support our areas of strength;
  • Using Executive funding effectively to bring in sustainable resources from other funders - such as the Research Councils, charitable funders and the European Union;
  • The easier connection of people across the system to form networks and share facilities;
  • More crossing of institution and discipline boundaries in pursuit of new research opportunities;
  • The ability to recognise and support important new and emerging areas of research;
  • A research culture and practice which is more outward looking and connected to the potential users of research;
  • Making it easier for Scottish-based businesses, especially SMEs, to interact with the Scottish research base, and for the Scottish research base to respond to Scottish-based businesses;
  • Sustaining Scotland's leading position in providing practical and financial support for higher education students and staff wanting to develop the commercial potential of their research.

Across the developed world, research, and in particular science, is rapidly becoming the key driver of economies, both in terms of creating wealth and in improving quality of life. It is clear that those countries which are most able to make connections between their academic research base and their industrial sectors are also best placed to capitalise successfully on discovery and innovation, to generate an entrepreneurial culture, and to raise their standards of living. Scotland cannot afford to be left behind in this increasingly fierce competition, and we must find ways to perform even better.

While there is rightly a focus on technology transfer into the wider economy, the exploitation of social science research too plays a vital role in helping to improve quality of life and improving social justice. Similarly, the commercialisation of research in creative disciplines, such as design and creative content for a whole range of media, brings cultural, social, and economic benefits and produces a highly visible international profile for Scotland. It is important too to recognise that a main output of research funding is skilled people - most postgraduates will not remain long-term in academic research but will take the high-level skills developed in higher education out into the wider economy and society.

The Scottish Executive's Science Strategy for Scotland, published in August 2001, sets out a framework and context for future development of scientific research, embracing the physical, life and social sciences. From 2004-05, we will be investing an additional 25 million a year in science and research in higher education, rising to 35 million in 2005-06. 26 This is in addition to an increase of 10 million a year provided from 2002-03 for research, recognising Scotland's strong performance in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise. Taken together these additional resources represent a total increase of around 20% in real terms in funds available for research by 2005-06 compared to 2001-02. The additional Executive funding will position our HEIs to continue to compete strongly for funding from the UK Research Councils and the European Union. We estimate that Scotland stands to gain an additional 70 million a year from the Research Councils by 2005-06.

Investing wisely: Scotland is a small country with a strong research base. We cannot be world-class at everything, but we do already have world-class strengths which have to be sustained, and valuable research in a range of areas. As our Science Strategy has already set out, our investment needs to be targeted if we are to attract and retain the best researchers, including post-graduate students, especially in the most expensive areas. But it needs also to be flexible enough to shift emphasis as new opportunities develop, including enabling decisions to be taken by any individual institution about promising new areas. To underpin this, we will still need to maintain a broad basic research expertise within Scotland - but it will become increasingly important to make sure this is managed in a way which makes the most effective use of available resources. Because the Executive provides less than half of institutions' research funding, one of the key purposes of our funding is to produce a high-quality research base to leverage further investment from other funders.

Scotland has improved compared to its position a decade ago and can be rightly proud of its performance compared to the rest of the UK. The excellence of Scotland's higher education research base is widely acknowledged, and Scotland has departments and research groups of particular excellence which are recognised through their RAE scores and by the extent to which they attract funding from external sources. Scotland needs to nurture its leading-edge research institutions, so that they remain competitive, while also helping less research intensive institutions to focus their research effort on the individuals and departments best placed to make the greatest contribution - recognising that small pockets of strong research can have a powerful, positive effect on an institution as a whole.

There is already a huge amount of effort underway to make progress on strategic use of resources, both within Scotland and at a UK and EU level.

Edinburgh University's Department of Informatics is a world leader in computational linguistics, computational science and artificial intelligence and was the only Department to be awarded a 5* rating for Computer Science in the 2001 UK Research Assessment Exercise. This Department, in partnership with Glasgow University, was awarded 5.5 million by the EPSRC in 2002 to establish the National e-Science Centre which leads the development of e-science for the whole of the UK.

Dundee University, with its 5* rated Department in Biological Science, is home to the Wellcome Trust Biocentre, an internationally renowned centre for research into diseases such as cancer, malaria and AIDS.

Heriot Watt University's Petroleum Engineering Institute is one of only two 5* rated Mineral and Mining Research Departments in the UK. The Institute works on the exploitation of subsurface oil and gas resources, relevant to the needs of the international petroleum industry, particularly in the development of oil and gas resources in the North Sea.

Sports-related Studies at the University of Glasgow was awarded a 5* in the 2001 RAE. The Centre for Exercise and Science Medicine (CESAME) provides the interface for multi-disciplinary research in Heath Promotion Policy; Biomedical and Life Sciences; and Clinical Medicine. Research conducted at CESAME underpins the University's long-term strategy to confront public health issues in Scotland.

In 2002-03, SHEFC introduced a restructured system of research grants, following the outcomes of the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise. Its Main Quality Research Grant (MQRG) is allocated selectively to support high quality research by reference to assessments of quality of research and measures of volume. Research Development Foundation Grant provides critical support to research in new, emerging and developing subject areas in those less research intensive institutions which do not have access to significant MQRG. The Science Research Investment Fund (SRIF), funded jointly with OST, develops infrastructure in order to maintain international competitiveness of the research base. Strategic Development Grant (SDG) addresses research priorities such as those which may emerge from the Science Strategy for Scotland. Knowledge Transfer Grant (KTG) provides the sector with a flexible funding stream to support knowledge transfer activities in HEIs.

The Executive's Science Strategy sets out the broad ways in which policy will be shaped in coming years, with the creation of the Scottish Science Advisory Committee (SSAC). SSAC is charged with providing advice to the Executive on the identification of priority areas of science and on the achievement of optimum outputs for Scotland. SSAC's first set of recommendations is due in the middle of 2003. www.scottishscience.org.uk

The Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee of the Scottish Parliament has produced a report on SHEFC's funding of research, which gathers together a valuable body of evidence on the challenges facing Scotland. www.scottish-parliament.uk

Within the UK, following the UK Government's spending review, there is a renewed effort to modernise research funding - with reforms in the dual support mechanism for research, a renewal of SRIF and a review of research assessment.

The creation of a is a further development offering significant opportunities to Scotland - because higher education institutions already perform well in competing for European funding under the existing Framework Programme, with a new programme, FP6 starting this year. Under the previous programme, FP5, Scotland was involved in 435 projects resulting in expenditure of around 40 million in Scotland.

The Executive supports the analysis in "Investing in Innovation" 27 - which highlights the need for a partnership between institutions and funders (government and non-government) to deliver a more sustainable system of research funding and behaviour. The Executive and SHEFC will continue to support UK-wide initiatives aimed at addressing past under-investment in the research base and improving the match between the volume of research institutions undertake and the resources available.

The training and development of postgraduate researchers is another critical area of investment where we will expect SHEFC to promote best practice.

To progress this we will:

  • 5.1 Continue to invest in science and research in higher education, to maintain a fully competitive research base and to support the UK-leading work SHEFC already has in hand using research grants both to support existing excellence and develop emerging areas. In doing this, ask SHEFC to give particular attention to the health of the basic science disciplines.
  • 5.2 Expect all institutions to take a strategic approach to the use of resources for research and to focus these on the areas where they are most likely to produce work of value.
  • 5.3 In the context of the current UK-wide review of research assessment, work with the other administrations to develop a system which encourages and supports strategic decision-making within institutions and provides wide-ranging data on the state of the Scottish research base, including enabling judgements to be made about its development over time.
  • 5.4 Ask SHEFC to draw on the advice of the new Scottish Science Advisory Committee on science priorities in making future investment decisions and complete a detailed study of the results of the most recent Research Assessment Exercise by summer 2003, to identify strengths and weaknesses in the research base, sharing the results of this with SSAC.
  • 5.5 Continue to participate in the UK-wide Foresight programme. 28
  • 5.6 Maintain strong links with the Office of Science and Technology particularly in relation to the work of the Research Councils, and enable SHEFC to increase its contribution to the joint OST-Funding Council SRIF by 50% from 2004-05 as part of the overall additional funding announced for science and research in SR2002. 29
  • 5.7 Work with SHEFC to identify strategic Scottish development needs and support the strengthening of the research base in these key areas.

Connectivity: Most research investment is concentrated in a minority of institutions. But all Scottish higher education institutions rightly have some involvement in research and there are talented researchers across the sector who need to be able to link into the wider research community - to share ideas and facilities. At the same time, some of the most exciting breakthroughs in research in the next decade are expected to be at the boundaries between disciplines, across the sciences, arts and humanities. The funding system needs to encourage exploration at these boundaries.

Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities are, with the benefit of SHEFC grant, establishing a new Scottish Centre for Research on Social Justice. The research programme will aim to reveal patterns of injustice, explore the processes involved in its emergence and persistence and inform policies which can alleviate inequalities and exclusion.

The Scottish Executive Education Department and SHEFC are jointly providing funding to develop capability in applied educational research in Scotland. This will re-invigorate and strengthen applied educational research and its relevance to practice and policy in Scotland. The objective of the scheme is to develop a high quality educational research capacity in Scotland that can stimulate practice and policy.

We need to ensure that where Scotland has strategic needs for research, the system is flexible enough to create the necessary networks and collaborations to support it. Connecting researchers in less research intensive institutions to the wider research community is an important part of this - both at the level of connecting people and sharing resources. This network building - both between institutions in Scotland at all levels and with those outside them - is already a key part of the system, but often it lags behind what could be achieved because institutions are sometimes too narrowly focused on the demands of their own self-interest. In critical areas of activity therefore Scotland needs to find ways of bringing individuals together which cut through institutional barriers. This needs to include international connections. A fund of 12 million has already been made available to the sector through SEn, focused on supporting new transatlantic links in the area of e-science. The first project supported under this scheme is a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and Stanford University in California. We also must find mechanisms that stimulate and support greater cross-fertilisation between disciplines, as these are increasingly where new breakthroughs occur. We need to foster a climate of collaboration without simply encouraging collaboration for its own sake.

To progress this we will:

  • 5.8 Expect all institutions to encourage their staff to seek out beneficial research collaborations, in Scotland and beyond, with HEIs and other organisations.
  • 5.9 Expect all institutions to actively promote and support the sharing of research facilities.
  • 5.10 Ask SHEFC to use an element of the science and research funding announced in SR2002 to help talented individuals in non-research intensive institutions strengthen their links with other institutions.
  • 5.11 Ask SHEFC for detailed advice on the potential for securing in Scotland a new inter-disciplinary, inter-institutional research at the boundary between the sciences and the arts and humanities.
  • 5.12 Introduce the necessary legislation to support the creation of the new Arts and Humanities Research Council as a full UK-wide research council, encouraging closer links between the arts and humanities and other disciplines, all of which are already funded within the Research Council UK structure.
  • 5.13 Recommend that the new research assessment system being developed at UK level does not discourage research which crosses disciplines and institutions.
  • 5.14 Ask SHEFC to ensure that teaching in all institutions benefits from advances in research, including through facilitating research-intensive institutions working with non-research intensive HEIs.

Centre for Advanced Textiles

Established by Glasgow School of Art in 2000 with funding from the SHEFC, CAT's remit is to investigate the commercial and educational potential of digital textile printing technology.

One strand of research being undertaken by the Centre for Advanced Textiles involves the digital printing of leather, cashmere and other experimental substrates and the use of 3D software packages not usually employed in the textile industry.

Other current projects include an investigation into the potential of textiles for accoustic absorption in public spaces; an investigation into the production methods and social issues surrounding the manufacture of Turkey Red textiles, drawing on an unknown Scottish archive of major international significance; and a cross-cultural investigation into the history of the banner, incuding ritual, ecclesiastical, political and commercial functions.

The commercial activity of the CAT Centre is growing rapidly with a variety of work being undertaken for large and small manufacturers, interior, product and fashion designers, artists and museums.

Knowledge transfer: Our Science Strategy already makes it clear that we want researchers to engage with the potential users of their research as a matter of routine, particularly in the areas which are closest to application, to create the greatest chance of exploitation. Scottish institutions have a relatively strong track record of commercialising research - but the strongest links often appear to be with companies outside Scotland. The Executive's priority must be to strengthen the links between higher education research and businesses and investors in Scotland, to create a high technology, knowledge-based economy. Researchers should be encouraged to communicate the results of research to the wider community and to involve potential users in the design and development of research. We believe there is scope to do more in particular to improve the engagement between researchers in the social sciences and local and national policy makers and service deliverers, so that our capacity in the social sciences is fully exploited to help improve social justice and the quality of life.

While free to shape their own research agendas, those in higher education need to retain a focus on the value and relevance of the research undertaken to the economy and society more generally. We want individual researchers to be motivated to communicate with potential users, and to recognise the satisfaction they can gain from seeing their work have an impact on the wider world.

The Executive recognises that research is speculative - we cannot know in advance what research has the most potential to be used to change the way we live. We know too that research activity may contribute indirectly to overall aims without being rigidly targeted on a particular economic or social aim within Scotland. So research should not become too narrowly focussed on present or uniquely Scottish needs. Research must be viewed in a global context; the contribution made by Scottish researchers to the solution of problems in other countries is also important. There is also a long history of invention and discovery for which practical uses were only later found. None of this should however prevent us from working to make research funding more efficient and effective in delivering those outputs which the economy needs and society wants, both today and in the longer term.

Knowledge Transfer covers the whole process of distilling research and expertise from one sector for the benefit of another. The commercialisation of research is central to the Executive's strategy for a smart, successful Scotland. This review found some continued questioning of the value of this activity by institutions and still some reluctance to regard it as a fundamental role for higher education - although the most recent HE-BI survey (see below) provides strong evidence that attitudes are more positive in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK towards knowledge transfer. There is still tension between the higher education and business sectors, including venture capitalists, in Scotland, with persistent concern on both sides that each fails to properly understand and respond to the needs of the other. One particular difficulty faced by institutions and businesses which undertake commercialisation infrequently is the challenge of developing complex agreements, particularly in the difficult and contested area of Intellectual Property rights. There appears to be relatively little experience of sharing expertise in this area between larger and smaller institutions. It remains unclear whether the position is more difficult in Scotland than in the rest of the UK - but Scotland's scale should make it easier to bridge these gaps in understanding and experience.

The promise of additional commercial income is not in itself enough to motivate HEIs to step-up participation and invest in the commercialisation process. The main lesson from the US, where even the most active universities gain only a small percentage of their income from this activity, is that commercialisation has thrived because of a culture of entrepreneurship, and strong programmes of R&D activity in business. Indeed the evidence suggests that the bulk of commercialisation in the US is the result of the activity of graduates in start-up activity, rather than that of researchers within the institution. We already have a range of programmes and initiatives which are aimed at fostering this activity, and in creating a more entrepreneurial culture.

The Scottish Executive funds a pipeline of support to help bring ideas out of labs and into production. Over 80 million of additional funding has been committed since 1999 through a variety of initiatives to support commercialisation of research and to overcome barriers to this process. This includes the 33 million Proof of Concept Fund, RSE fellowships, SMART and SPUR schemes, the Teaching Company Scheme (TCS), and Invest for Growth schemes.

Better ways still need to be found of encouraging and incentivising commercialisation, and rewarding those institutions and individuals which are engaged in it, and we need to support the range of models for this - spin-outs, start-ups and engagement with existing business.

The creation of three Intermediary Technology Institutes by Scottish Enterprise over the next few years, where exploiting commercial opportunities will require commissioning research from a range of disciplines, offers a new focus for cross-fertilisation unique in the UK. It is hoped that the ITIs will fulfil the role presently lacking in Scotland, of a thriving business R&D sector engaging strongly with the HE sector, providing HEIs with a new stimulus to carry out research that has potential for exploitable outcomes.

Information on the commercialisation of university research is available from the annual UK Higher Education-Business Interaction (HE-BI) survey, which is based on activities reported by universities. The Executive publishes key Scottish results, based on the UK survey. The most recent UK report and Scottish analysis, covering the academic session 2000/2001, were both published in March 2003 and are available at www.scotland.gov.uk/about/ELLD/EI/00016585/summary.aspx

The Scottish returns for the UK survey showed Scotland performing well in comparison with the rest of the UK. Two-thirds of Scottish Universities reported that they regarded technology transfer as one of their three key contributions to economic development, a proportion twice as high as in the UK as a whole. Scottish institutions also contributed 11 per cent of new university patents filed, 15 per cent of UK licences granted and 14 per cent of spin-off companies formed in 2000/2001.

Tayside has established itself as a leading exponent of commercialisation best practice, particularly in the biosciences. Stakeholders in the area have a widely shared appreciation of the critical importance of original research in driving the economic value generated by universities. This attracts to Tayside both research funding and highly skilled people, who generate intellectual property and spinout companies. There are over 350 externally funded postdoctoral staff, mostly in the Life and Medical Sciences. Additional benefits accrue from the improvements to infrastructure required to support this research activity, which may be available also to the commercial sector. The quality of facilities and expertise also makes the universities in the area more attractive to undergraduates.

To progress this we will:

  • 5.15 As part of the overall additional funding for science and research announced in SR2002, enable SHEFC by 2005-06 to increase resources by at least 100% (from the current baseline of 6 million) for investment in knowledge transfer grant (KTG), providing incentives for much more intensive interactions between HE and business. KTG is being reviewed by SHEFC with the aim of incorporating a range of suitable metrics to help drive and share best practice in commercialisation. As part of this review, we will also ask SHEFC to consider how KTG might be used to help stimulate human resource practices which better support knowledge transfer activities.
  • 5.16 Ask Scottish Enterprise 30 and SHEFC to examine together the feasibility of establishing a Scottish centre of expertise in commercialisation. This would help Scottish-based businesses and HEIs to interact more effectively, for example through making specialist advice more readily available. The centre, possibly based in a local enterprise company, would target businesses with limited experience of exploiting research and working with HEIs, and also HEIs with limited in-house commercialisation expertise. Scottish Enterprise and SHEFC should provide an initial report to Ministers on how this could be taken forward by the end of September 2003. 31
  • 5.17 Ask SHEFC and Scottish Enterprise to develop further their close working relationship so that commercialisation and knowledge transfer activity can be enhanced and incentivised.
  • 5.18 Support Scottish Enterprise to invest 450 million over 10 years in Intermediary Technology Institutes in life sciences, communications technology and energy, and encourage and incentivise the higher education sector to engage with the ITI initiative by making available 10 million for investment in higher education institutions by 2005-06 to assist their involvement with ITIs, as part of the overall additional funding for science and research in higher education announced in SR2002.
  • 5.19 Examine and promulgate the lessons from existing best practice in HE-business interaction in Scotland.
  • 5.20 Publish regular measures of commercialisation activity by HEIs in Scotland in order to monitor trends in activity and to compare against UK and other country benchmarks.
  • 5.21 Expect all institutions to contribute to strengthening the sharing of existing commercialisation expertise within the sector, including expertise in Intellectual Property.

The Scottish Research Information System (SRIS)

SRIS is a web-based system (scottishresearch.com) providing a starting point for finding out about Scotland's research, development, consultancy and innovation resources. SRIS helps to bring together the capabilities of universities and institutes in Scotland, with organisations around the world that can make good use of these resources. www.scottishresearch.com

With the help of SRIS, users of the site can:

  • Stay in touch with the directions of Scotland's research.
  • Use this to help define strategic directions and decide policies.
  • Pinpoint funding sources.
  • Locate partners and form transnational consortia to exploit the research findings.
  • License and transfer technology.
  • 5.22 Encourage the development of education programmes to help the higher education and business sectors, including venture capitalists, better understand each other's perspectives on commercialisation.
  • 5.23 Ask SHEFC to work with Scottish Enterprise to promote entrepreneurialism by providing opportunities for students and researchers to obtain necessary management and business skills through initiatives such as the Scottish Institute for Enterprise.
  • 5.24 Recommend that the revised research assessment method being developed at a UK level does not discourage more outward-looking behaviour by researchers.
  • 5.25 Expect SHEFC to continue to develop the Scottish Research Information System.
  • 5.26 Showcase and promote the best of Scottish research to an international audience, working closely with bodies such as the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
  • 5.27 Act on any recommendations as appropriate from the current review of the Interaction of Higher Education and Business in the UK (The Lambert Review), which will provide a further input to this issue.

Design and Knowledge Transfer

The Glasgow School of Art has entered into a licensing agreement with Lomax Mobility, wheelchair manufacturers based in Dundee, for the production of the Duplex Ultrasound Examination Chair, which will make routing varicose vein operations easier and faster for the patient and the clinician.

Lomax has employed the two graduate inventors (from the GSA Product Design Department) to work on the development of the design. The School is now applying for an international patent, which will allow the manufacturer to enter the lucrative US market with the appliance.

Work is currently in progress to prototype and commercialise other products designed by 2001/02 graduates of the Product Design Engineering Department. These include a revolutionary premature baby incubator, an army field cooker and a rescue respirator.

SURE Student Enterprise Incubator

Stirling University Research & Enterprise (SURE) celebrated the launch of the SURE Student Enterprise Incubator in September 2002. This facility is open to Stirling University students who have a good business idea coupled with entrepreneurial flair.

Benefiting from a partnership between SURE and Scottish Enterprise Forth Valley, students can start their businesses in a SURE Incubator unit, which includes serviced office space, computing equipment, internet access, telephone, fax, and secretarial support. The facility enables students to take their first steps into self-employment and learn business management skills as they develop their idea, supported through advice and training from SURE and Small Business Gateway. Located within Stirling University Innovation Park, the environment of the Incubator offers ample networking opportunities with other young companies whilst being close to the University.

In October 2002, the Scottish Executive held a highly successful programme of events in Sweden to promote Scottish arts, culture, science and tourism, and commissioned the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) to organise the science part of the programme. During 2003, the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament's annual Tartan Day in the USA includes an e-science conference organised by the RSE. The Executive has increased funding to the RSE to allow it to increase its international activity.