Publication - Research and analysis

Franco-Scottish links in research, innovation and higher education

Overview of Franco-Scottish higher education and research partnerships including analysis and recommendations for furthering collaboration between France and Scotland.

Franco-Scottish links in research, innovation and higher education
1. Background, scope and methodology

1. Background, scope and methodology

1.1 Origins of the project

The Paris Hub is one of a network of international offices of the Scottish Government, overseen by the Directorate for External Affairs (European Relations division), and that aims to build Scotland's reputation abroad, promote innovation and investment, and strengthen cultural and economic ties with other countries. Launched in 2018, and based in the British Consulate in central Paris, the French office is working on the following key priorities:

  • Strengthen existing networks and develop new connections.
  • Work with Scottish Development International (SDI) to support trade and investment.
  • Promote cultural, touristic and sport offerings.
  • Build relations with local and national governments for policy development.
  • Identify and encourage opportunities for research and innovation collaborations between businesses and universities.

In addition to those overarching objectives, the Paris Hub is also focusing this year on promoting Scotland's world-leading nation in the fight against climate change and on renewable energy. France is of fundamental importance to Scotland economically, culturally, and politically, and bilateral relationships between the two countries are even more important in the context of Brexit.

To best support and encourage links between Scotland and France, the Paris Hub sought to better understand the existing links between the two countries, especially in the field of research and innovation. A more detailed picture of how active and developed these partnerships are will enable the Paris team to make the most of existing efforts to promote and strengthen Franco-Scottish relationships.

By exploring how these links are created, used, and how they could be improved, the Paris office could focus its intervention and target specific geographical and/or expertise areas to add the most value. More generally, this information would be used to develop a regional strategy for France and inform wider policy development for the Scottish Government and its agencies such as SDI.

To guarantee the robustness of this evidence gathering exercise, the Paris Hub sought to appoint a doctoral researcher through the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences internship programme. Initially planned for a 3-month period in Summer 2020, the project was delayed due to the Coronavirus crisis. It finally took place over 6 months between October 2020 and March 2021, thus covering not only the official exit of the UK from the European Union but also the evolution of the pandemic and attached restrictions.

1.2 Objectives, scope, and deliverables

The overall objective of the project is to provide an evidence base for the Paris hub, and wider Scottish Government teams, to support their strategic decisions and help prioritise interventions. This includes an overview of existing Franco-Scottish relationships as well as a portfolio of case studies detailing the structure and origin existing partnerships to demonstrate their benefits and showcase possibilities for future collaborations.

As noted above, the Paris Hub is active in a wide range of sectors. The team has already made significant progress in terms of representation and communication of Scottish interests, and in particular cultural links. The Hub is well connected with local and national governments and involved in several policy agendas such as Arctic connections. Business support, including trade and investment, is also well developed thanks to their continuous collaboration with the SDI office.

However, the Research & Innovation sector, one of the strategic objectives for the Paris Hub, remains less understood. Most key policies in this area are currently driven by internal Scottish Government priorities, without recognitions of external interests and existing networks. At the leadership level, discussions tend to remain fixated on the obstacles presented by Brexit rather than drawing from and building upon positive initiatives and examples across Europe.

Research and Innovation was selected as the priority area for the project due to this lack of evidence. This choice was further supported by the fact that Paris Hub team had already initiated contacts with the Higher Education and Research sectors, and related policy teams. An informative note including a call for feedback was sent to Scottish universities and innovation centres in October 2020, which would form the basis of further enquiries.

Education links were initially considered as lower priority and not to be actively investigated. However, as the UK announced that the country would not remain part of the EU Erasmus+ programme (student exchange and mobility scheme), this area became central in discussions with stakeholders, leading the Paris team to launch a call for evidence towards French actors in February 2020. The information received was integrated into this report and complemented by further data collection (see next section).

Given the breadth of academic disciplines and scientific areas, several themes were prioritised for case studies. Those align with the wider strategic commitment of the Paris Hub and the Scottish Government and include: climate change mitigation, decarbonisation, renewable energies, wellbeing economy and inclusive growth, digital technologies.

Key project deliverables:

1. This main report including:

  • Overview of Research, Innovation and Higher Education in France and Scotland: key indicators, strategies, funding, and key actors
  • Exploration of Franco-Scottish relationships, including detailed case studies covering the priority themes
  • Methodological toolbox aimed at facilitating future studies
  • Recommendations for future support and development of Franco-Scottish collaborations

2. Database of existing Franco-Scottish links incorporating maps and infographics including user-guide for future updates.

3. Contact list for experts and key stakeholders.

4. Ad-hoc support including region or area specific briefs

1.3 Methodology

Secondary data collection: Generic data on the sector was collected through desk-based analysis of grey literature, such as strategic reports and government strategies, but also key performance frameworks in both countries. This helped to identify the key actors of the sectors, and details on main stakeholders and organisations were gathered from their respective websites.

Toolbox 1: general sources

Main policy pages: Science and Research and Universities, policy pages of the Advance Learning and Science Directorate (Scotland). Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (UK). Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur, de la Recherche et de l'Innovation (France).

Key indicators and statistics: Business and innovation statistics collection and Higher Education Statistics Agency (Scotland and UK). Etat de l'Enseignement Supérieur, de la Recherche et de l'Education (France)

Evaluation of Universities and Research: Shanghai Ratings or the academic rankings of world universities; Times Higher Education world university rankings; QS world university rankings; Research Excellence Framework (UK)

The database of links between France and Scotland was generated from data extracted from public research funding repositories, including national agencies as well as all major European programmes. For each entry, the following information was recorded:

  • Name and details of the relationship, website when available.
  • Type of link: research project (public actors only), knowledge exchange project (when at least one partner is a business), fellowships (PhD programmes or staff mobility schemes), network (group of organisations, including infrastructure and training programmes).
  • Field and subfield: based on the European Research Council (ERC) scientific panels' structure[1].
  • Green focus: whether the project is connected to climate change mitigation or renewable energies.
  • Organisations: project lead, French, and Scottish partners. For each partner, the organisation name and location (city, region, country) were recorded, alongside its type: business (companies and private research organisations), government (local or national, including agencies), higher education (public universities and other institutions), hospitals (National Health Service, Centres Hospitaliers Universitaires), professional associations (groups of private interests), research institutes (public research organisations).
  • Estimated value: when available, this is the overall budget of the project (not the shared obtained by each partner).
  • Funds: origins of the funding.
  • Start and end date: projects ending before January 2020 were not included.

In addition to those recorded in funding repositories, relationships mentioned by stakeholders during the research period were also added to the database. The resulting list is not aimed to be fully exhaustive, however it provides a robust overview of the extent and distribution of Franco-Scottish links across geographies and disciplines.

Toolbox 2: research projects and organisations repositories

Scottish sources: no funding repository (see funding section for details). The website Research Innovation Scotland was recently created jointly by the Scottish research pools and innovation centres. The Scottish Funding Portal lists all funding opportunities available to actors in Scotland.

UK sources: UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Gateway to Research, public data Tableaux for International Development.

French sources: scanR, national repository of public and private organisations and research work. ANR funded projects. Recherche en France, platform for doctorate and post-doctorate subjects and opportunities, and associated directory of graduate schools. Directory of research labs and infrastructure.

European sources: all funding and tender opportunities are centralised under the Single Electronic Data Interchange Area, SEDIA. The following databases are related to research, innovation, and higher education:

  • CORDIS, the Community Research and Development information Service for all EU-funded research projects under the framework programmes (Horizon). More detailed information can be found under the Collaboration Network visualisation tool, and the Horizon Dashboard which includes implementation figures, organisation and country profiles and project results.
  • Erasmus+ project results (the database only records recipient organisation, not where the partners are located)
  • COSME data hub, programme for the competitiveness of enterprises
  • COST actions, European cooperation in science and technology
  • Interreg, the EU instrument supporting cooperation across borders. Scotland and/or some of its regions are involved in several of its sub-programmes: Peace+ (with Ireland and Northern Ireland); North West Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Switzerland); Atlantic Area (West coast regions in Ireland, England, Wales, Spain and Portugal); North Sea (coastal regions in England, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway); Northern Periphery & Arctic (Northern Ireland, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland Norway); Interreg Europe (policy education); Espon (territorial analysis); Urbact (sustainable urban development); Interact (general assistance).

Primary data collection: to explore the origins, challenges and opportunities around Franco-Scottish links, primary data was obtained through semi-structure interviews with key stakeholders. All major research institutes in both France and Scotland (research pools, universities and SEFARI institutes) were contacted, as well as key agencies and organisations working in the sector and identified through the desk-based exercise and conversations with Scottish Government policy teams. When required, several interviews were performed within a single organisation to gather feedback from the different actors involved in Franco-Scottish relations. Whilst not all organisations participated, the final sample includes a wide range of actors thus guaranteeing representativeness. Furthermore, data saturation was observed during the last interviews, with previously mentioned themes reappearing.

All participants received a privacy notice detailing the origins of the project and how their information would be used. Sessions lasted between 20 minutes and 1 hour and were all held online. The interview guide can be found in Annex 1. Interviews were conducted by the researcher. Sessions were not transcribed but extensive notes were produced. These were shared with participants, who were able to make amends if required, thus also confirming consent. Anonymity was offered to all participants, although only one interviewee opted for this. Note that ethical approval was sought and granted on this project, with safeguards including anonymity, consent and the lack of vulnerable participants and sensitive topics.

In addition to the interviews, the researcher also attended several meetings with key stakeholders, during which Franco-Scottish links were discussed with other members of the Paris Hub. When relevant and upon approval of participants, themes discussed during those events have been included in the findings. Finally, the face-to-face discussions were supplemented by an online survey covering similar themes, see Annex 2. This made it possible to include further participants in a time-efficient manner. The survey was particularly aimed at French respondents in an attempt to reduce the impact of the language barrier. However, only a few responses were received, despite multiple attempts at dissemination through existing contacts and networks. The overall number of responses was 36, with 15 for French actors and 21 in Scotland, providing a good overview of both countries (Table 1).

Table 1: Participating stakeholders
Country Organisation Type Interview (I) Meeting (M) Online (O) Total
France CEA Research institute M (1) - I (1) Interviews = 8
CNES " I (1) Meetings = 3
CNRS " I (1) Online = 4
France Energies Marines " M (1) Total = 15
IPGP " O (1)  
INRAE " I (1)  
Institut Curie University I (1)  
Université Aix Marseille " M (1)  
Rennes 1 " O (1)  
Université Clermont Auvergne " O (1)  
Ambassade de France Other I (2)  
Anonymous " I (1)  
Grow " O (1)  
Scotland BioSS Research pool I (1) Interviews = 16
ETP " I (1) Meetings = 2
Soillse " I (1) Online = 3
SRPe " I (1) Total = 21
Sulsa " M (1)  
Sages " I (1)  
James Hutton Institute Research institute I (3) – O (1)  
Rowett Institute " I (1) – O(1)  
EMEC " I (1)  
SAMS " O (1)  
Individual researchers University I (3)  
Heriot Watt University " I (1)  
University of Glasgow " I (1) – M (1)  
University of St Andrews " I (1)  
Royal Society Edinburgh Other I (1)  
Scottish Funding Council " I (1)  
Universities Scotland " I (1)