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.

2. Research & Innovation in France and Scotland

2.1 Key indicators

Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD) is the main KPI for research performed and funded by different sectors, including businesses (BERD), higher education (HERD), government (GovERD) and private non-profit (PNP) sectors (this latter category is only available in the UK). In Scotland, the measure of GERD as percentage of GDP is one of the KPI's of the National Performance Framework. It is also a key indicator of the UK's Government Industrial Strategy. Scotland total GERD in 2018 represented 1.65% of GDP, slightly under the UK (1,71%) and below averages for EU and OECD countries. In contrast, France's GERD accounted for 2.19% of GDP, with the largest contribution (66%) coming from businesses. In Scotland, businesses' share represents just 50% of GERD (Figure 1).

Figure 1: GERD as percentage of GDP in 2018, source: Scottish Government [2]
Bar chart showing the breakdown of GERD for 2018 (BERD, HERD, GovERD, PNP) for Scotland, the UK, France, Finland, New Zealand, the EU and OECD countries

The Europe 2020 strategy, which was published in 2010, on the back of the financial crisis had set a target of 3% for GERD by 2020. EU average has seen some moderate growth since then but remains below this target and the performance of other countries like the United States (2.8% in 2018). In Scotland, GERD has been growing since 2012, and it is slowly closing the gap towards the UK. Whilst this value is one of the country's KPIs, the Scottish Government has not set any specific target for GERD. The UK's Industrial Strategy, published in 2018, includes a commitment to raise investment on R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 [3]. France's GERD has been slightly decreasing in the past years (Figure 2).

Figure 2: GERD as percentage of GDP (2001-2018), source: Scottish Government [2]
Line chart showing the evolution of GERD as percentage of GDP from 2001 to 2018 for Scotland, the UK, France, the EU and OECD countries

In 2018, Scotland's total GERD amounted to b£2.7, representing 7.3% of UK's total expenditure of b£37.1, an increase of 4.4% since 2017. France total expenditure for the same year was b€51.8, an increase of 2.3%, which was mostly supported by business investment.

Scientific papers and their citations are another key indicator of research and innovation performance. Despite its relatively small size, Scotland ranked on the 19th position in terms of number of documents in the Web of Science database (as of March 2021). England is 3rd, behind the USA and China, and France comes in 5th position just after Germany. The number of citations per paper in Scotland is higher than in the UK, France, and the worldwide average. The proportion of top papers (papers in the top 1% for the past 10 years and/or that received a very high number of citations in the current two-month period) is also higher in Scotland (Table 2).

Table 2: Publications as of March 2021, source: InCites Essential Science Indicators
Rank Country Number of documents Cites per paper % top papers % world papers % world top papers
1 USA 4390179 19.98 1.8% 18.7% 21.3%
2 China 3215444 12.51 1.2% 13.7% 10.8%
3 England 1121305 20.74 2.2% 4.8% 6.7%
4 Germany 1182032 19.07 1.7% 5.0% 5.5%
5 France 806176 18.66 1.7% 3.4% 3.6%
19 Scotland 169574 23.35 2.6% 0.7% 1.2%

Despite accounting for only 8 % of the UK's population [4] and 8.5% of the country's R&D personnel [5], Scotland publications represent 12.3% of the UK's total. For top papers, this proportion reaches 14.3% [6].

The largest subject fields by publication in Scotland are Physical Sciences, Clinical Sciences and Biological Sciences. Humanities have had the largest increase in between 2006 and 2016. Environmental Sciences and Energy subjects have also increased[7]. France is highly specialised in Mathematics, where the proportion of French publications is 60% higher than the rest of the world. The country's specialisation index is also above average in Fundamental biology, Medical research and Universe Sciences. In contrast, the UK's highest specialisation indexes are in Social Sciences and Human sciences, although this could be due to the lack of non-English publications in humanities included in the Web of Science databases[8].

In 2016, the impact factor (number of citations per publication compared to world average) of France as a whole was 1.01 against 1.20 for the UK. The UK was above France in all disciplines (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Impact factor per discipline in 2016, Source: French Government [8]
Bar chart showing the average impact factor of scientific publications in the main disciplines for the UK and France in 2016

The impact factor is not available for Scotland. However, the country's Field Weighed Citation Impact, which uses a different method, was 1.79 for the period 2012-16, against 1.58 for the whole UK[7].

International collaboration can be observed through the number of publications including a French or British author with at least another international co-author. These used to be less than half of all papers for both countries in 2008, but in 2018 they represented 63,3% in the UK and 62.5% in France[6]. Scotland's share of international collaboration (this does not include papers with authors from within the UK) reached 56.9% in 2016, in line with the rest of the UK[8].

When considering publications in the past 5 years, Scotland's most frequent collaborators were the USA, Germany, China and France respectively (Figure 4a). Note that the position of China in the scientific community has been increasing rapidly in the past few years. Scotland is only in the 20th position in terms of number of collaborations with France when considered separately. Still, the whole of the UK remains the second most important collaborator for France, behind the US and above Germany (Figure 4b).

Figure 4: Publications with international co-authors, source: Web of Science March 2021
Treemap showing the number of publications on the Web of Science by March 2021 with international co-authors for France and Scotland, and the origin of co-authors

2.2 Research strategies and the role of international collaboration

UK: the UK Government published its Research and Development Roadmap[9] in July 2020, a white paper aimed to be the first step in a conversation to establish the strengths and challenges of the sector, as it will be critical to economic and social recovery from Covid-19. The UK long term objectives are to be a science superpower and invest in the science and research that will deliver economic growth and societal benefits across the UK for decades to come, and to build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow. The key commitments are to increase investment in R&D to 2.4% in 2027 (3% in the longer term) and public funding to £22b per year by 2024/25.

International collaboration is one of the key areas for improvement for Research and Innovation, as the UK seeks to remain a partner of choice in an increasingly competitive environment. The UK Government proposes to upgrade UK's offer by developing a new portfolio approach that brings together new and existing opportunities. Existing collaborations arrangements will be strengthened, and new partnerships with emerging knowledge economies will be developed through a commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income in international aid. The UK will seek continued association with the Horizon Europe and Euratom programmes (this was confirmed after the publication of the roadmap). Finally, the UK Government aims to demonstrate the country's leaderships in existing research and innovation organisation, and in particular through the upcoming G7 and COP26 presidency.

The roadmap was preceded by the International Research and Innovation Strategy[10], which sets how the country will develop its research and innovation partnerships, bring talents together and support public and private actors to tackle global challenges. These engagements are to be led by the Science and Innovation Network teams in Embassies and Higher Commissions across the world. Key themes: being a global partner, bringing together talent, global hub for innovation, package of incentives and financial support, global platform for the technologies of tomorrow, partner for a sustainable future, advocate for better research governance, ethics, and impact.

Both strategies are an extension of the Industrial Strategy3 published in 2018, which sets the goal to make the UK the most innovative country in the world by 2030 and aims to create an economy that boosts productivity and earning power throughout the country. This document sets four grand challenges for the industry and researchers: AI & Data Economy, Future of Mobility, Clean Growth and Ageing Society. Those themes run through the different priority research streams for each of the UKRI councils (see box below).

UKRI councils' priority research themes, as per their delivery plans for 2019:

Arts and Humanities Research Council: creativity and the creative economy; discovery research; interdisciplinary for contemporary challenges; understanding cultural value; arts and science, arts in science; global engagement and the SDGs, research unlocking cultural assets.

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council: understanding the rules of life; transformative technologies; bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food; bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth; bioscience for an integrated understanding do health; people and talent; infrastructure; collaboration, partnerships and knowledge exchange.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council: productive nation: catalysing growth; connected nation: enhancing future digital technologies; healthy nation: transforming healthcare; resilient nation: enabling adaptable solutions.

Economic and Social Research Council: productivity, prosperity and growth; next-generation public services; living with technology; changing populations; the UK in a changing world; global development, environment and society.

Innovate UK: artificial intelligence and the data economy; ageing society, health and nutrition; clean growth and infrastructure; mobility, manufacturing and materials.

Medical Research Council: prevention and early detection; precision medicine; multi-morbidities; advanced therapies; mental health; antimicrobial resistance; global health.

Natural Environment Research Council: environmental solutions; pushing the frontiers of understanding; productive environment; healthy environment; resilient environment; digital environment; digital environment; global environment; best environment for research and innovation.

Science and Technology Facilities Council: developing advanced technologies; data-intensive science; research and innovation campuses; solutions for 21st century challenges; inspiring and involving; building international influence.

Scotland: the Scottish Government has not published a national research strategy, although the country's sector will be heavily influenced by the UK priorities given the proportion of UK funding won by researchers in Scotland. However, research and international collaboration are mentioned in several national plans:

  • Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland, the Government's Programme for Scotland 2020-21[11]: direct commitments to research through Covid-19 research programmes, support development of CCUS projects, marine climate change virtual centre, m£1 for research projects on drugs deaths. Indirect commitments through Energy Strategy, Hydrogen Action Plan, Biodiversity Challenge Fund, Agricultural Transformation Fund.
  • Inward Investment Plan[12] published in October 2020, seeking to attract investors to complement the plan for exports published in 2019 (see below). Relevance for research as inward investors are responsible for 63% of business R&D spending., with nine opportunity areas where Scottish strengths match global investment flows: energy transition, decarbonisation of transport, software and IT, digital financial services, digital business services, space, health tech, transformation of chemical industries, food & drink innovation.
  • Economic Recovery Implementation Plan[13]: published in August 2020, response to the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery report, seeks to address consequences of Covid (and Brexit) for the country's economy and society, with a strong focus on equalities and human rights. Commitments on research are related to the recommendation 21, which ask the Scottish Government and the SFC to protect universities and colleges from the impact of the crisis. This included an additional m£75 funding for university research in the short term. The government plans to take forward the outcomes of the SFC review of coherent provision and sustainability, (due in summer 2021).
  • A Trading Nation – a plan for growing Scotland's exports[14]: published in May 2019, this document sets out the government's intention to drive the internationalisation of the Scottish economy. Key sectors for exports: food & drink, engineering & advanced manufacturing, life & chemical sciences, energy, technology, digital & media, financial & business services, education, tourism. France is identified as a priority market for immediate opportunities; however, the research sector is not highlighted (although life and chemical sciences are one of the main Scottish exports). Commitments on research include: supporting universities and colleges to access international opportunities and build strategic collaborations with markets that are investing heavily in research.

Furthermore, supporting the development of coherent national research and innovation strategies for Scotland is one of the objectives of the Scottish Funding Council (body responsible for the allocation of research grants to Scottish Universities, as well as education funding), alongside supporting world-leading and internationally competitive research. The performance measures for international engagement are the proportion of research funding from international sources and the volume of international partnerships between Scottish and overseas institutions.

In addition to cross-sector national strategies, there are also several plans and roadmaps that include priorities for research for specific areas.

  • Rural Affairs, Food and Environment Strategy for 2016-2021[15]: published in 2015, this sets out the direction for the rural affairs, food and environment portfolio, including public investments in scientific research in the area of m£50 per year. Current focus is on three interlinked themes of food, health and wellbeing; productive & sustainable land management and rural economies; and rural assets. The main research providers in the area are coordinated through SEFARI (launched in 2017). The next cycle of research starts in 2022 and is currently undergoing consultation[16].
  • Delivering Innovation through Research – Scottish Government Health and Social Care Research Strategy[17], published in 2015, articulated on the objective of maintaining Scotland's position at the forefront of health research.
  • Scottish National Research Framework for Problem Drug Use and Recovery (published 2015)[18], which led to the creation of the Drug Research Network for Scotland, an organisation tasked with developing collaborative research across disciplines, organisations, and countries.
  • A Health and biomedical informatics research strategy for Scotland (published 2015)[19], which reviews approach to health service data and its use for research.

France: France Europe 2020[20]is the current French National Research Strategy. This programme is a statutory requirement of the Loi pour l'Enseignement et la Recherche du 22 Juillet 2013 (Law for Education and Research of 22 July 2013) that was published in 2014. It defines the thematic priorities for research and innovation in the country. Its objectives are to respond to scientific, technological, environmental, and societal challenges and valorise results. It is executed through annual contracts with research institutes and higher education institutions, the ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche – equivalent of UKRI) programmes and other research public funding instruments. The thematic priorities and directions are (translated):

  • Restrained resources management and climate change adaptation: intelligent earth system monitoring, sustainable management of natural resources, evaluation and control of climate and environmental risk, eco and biotechnologies for energy transition, "littoral" laboratory.
  • Clean, safe and efficient energy: dynamic management of energy systems, multi-scale governance of new energy systems, energy efficiency, reduction of reliance on strategic materials, fossil carbon substitution for energy and chemistry.
  • Industrial renewal: digital factories, green and civic factories, flexible manufacturing process centred on humans, new materials design, sensors and instrumentation.
  • Health and wellbeing: multi-scale analysis of diversity and bio-evolutions, processing and collecting of biological data, national network of excellence centres for research and treatment.
  • Food security and demographic challenge: health and sustainable food, integrated approach of production systems, from production to diversified uses of biomass.
  • Sustainable transports and urban systems: city monitoring centres, new approaches to mobility, tools and technologies for sustainable cities, integration and resilience of infrastructures and urban networks.
  • Information and communication society: 5th generation network infrastructure, connected objects, big data exploitation, human-machine collaborations.
  • Innovative, integrative and adaptive societies: culture and integration studies, new indicators for innovation capacity, data availability and knowledge extraction, social, educative and cultural innovations.
  • Aerospace ambition for Europe: service chain for earth monitoring, telecommunications and navigation sectors competitiveness, critical components, technologies for universe observation and exploration, national security and defence.
  • Liberty and security for Europe, its citizens and residents: prevention and anticipation of risks and threats, integrated crisis management, security systems resilience.

The National Research Strategy is due to be reviewed every 5 years, and the new programme has been in development since early 2019. After a halt due to Covid, the law was brought forward in summer and adopted by the Assemblée Nationale in September 2020 (Loi de Programmation de la Recherche 2020-2030). It came into force in 2021 and aligns with Horizon Europe. It includes a commitment to increased public funding, as French GERD has been lagging behind the OECD (2.21% of GDP in 2019) and the European objective of 3%. France will invest a further €25 billion between 2021 and 2030 to support research (€400m in 2021, €800m in 2022 and €1.2b in 2023) and achieve an annual budget of €20b, €5b more than today. The law also includes changes to contracts and salaries to boost recruitment and retain researchers and encourages industry collaborations. Note that the law received strong opposition from academic communities who believe it is not ambitious enough for post-Covid challenges and that it threatens quality of public research. A national strategy setting out thematic priorities may follow but has not been announced yet.

Europe: The latest Research and Innovation strategy was published in 2016 by the European Commission: Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World – a vision for Europe[21] . This document sets the overarching policy goals: opening up the innovation process to people with experience, spread knowledge as soon as it is available using digital and collaborative technology, promote international cooperation in the research community.

Horizon 2020, the current EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, is the main financial implement of this strategy. Funding opportunities under H2020 are set out in multiannual work programmes, which are prepared in consultation of stakeholders ranging from industry and research to representatives of civil society. The latest work programme covered 2018 to 2020, and was articulated around four focus areas aligned to major policy priorities:

  • Building a low-carbon, climate resilient future
  • Connecting economic and environmental gains – the Circular Economy
  • Digitising and transforming European industry and services
  • Boosting the effectiveness of the Security Union

The Commission's proposal for the next Framework Programme was published along the next EU long-term budget in May 2018 and included an ambitious €100b investment for 2021-27. The European Parliament and the Council of the EU reached a provisional agreement on Horizon Europe in April 2019. Following this political agreement, the Commission began a strategic planning process to prepare the content of work programmes and calls for proposals for the first 4 years. Five key mission areas have been identified:

  • Adaptation to climate change including societal transformation
  • Cancer
  • Climate-neutral and smart cities
  • Healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters
  • Soil health and food

Common areas of interest: whilst each national strategy is oriented towards specific priorities, there are several areas in which both France and Scotland are aligned. Firstly, climate change mitigation is a truly global challenge, and therefore a salient theme for all countries. This wide umbrella includes fields such as renewable energies, smart cities, hydrogen, sustainable transport but also agricultural transformation and food security. Secondly, AI and the digital sciences are a shared interest for both countries, and again cross over a large spectrum of applications and scientific disciplines. The third key theme of shared interest is health, and in particular the development of new diagnostics and treatments, but also the wider concepts of wellbeing economy and social care. Finally, given their similarly extensive coastline, it unsurprising that France and Scotland share an interest in marine sciences and blue economy, including wildlife observation and preservation, the management of fishery resources as well as aquaculture.

International collaboration is an intrinsic element of the European programmes. At the national level, this is less of a priority as countries strategies tend to be focused on internal economy.

2.3 Key stakeholders

Scotland's public research institutions: most of Scottish public research is delivered by the country's 19 universities (see Annex 3 and Table 3). All are involved in both research and education, although some of the newest institutions tend to be more focused on teaching. The oldest Scottish universities are well represented in international rankings. The most prestigious is the University of Edinburgh, which is the only Scottish Higher Education Institution (HEI) in the Shanghai Ranking top 100 (#42 in 2020). Both the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford are regularly in the top 10[22]. The Shanghai Ranking was created in 2003 and focuses on research performance, although it has been criticised for not considering quality of instruction and humanities, focusing too much on the Anglo-Saxon model, and using metrics not independent to university size.

Table 3: Higher Education Institutions in Scotland. Source: HESA
Name Date founded Academic staff (2019/20) Students (2019/2020) French students (2019/20)
Abertay University 1888 200 4,280 70
Edinburgh Napier University 1964 615 13,930 120
Glasgow Caledonian University 1875 730 17,540 55
Glasgow School of Arts 1845 155 2,380 45
Heriot-Watt university 1821 815 11,155 245
Open University 1969 2,435 17,915 n/a
Queen Margaret University 1875 215 5,130 45
Robert Gordon University 1750 520 12,660 70
Royal Conservatory of Scotland 1947 115 1,220 15
SRUC (Scottish Rural College) 2012 370 1,570 5
The University of Edinburgh 1582 4,735 35,375 265
University of Aberdeen 1495 1,175 15,185 180
University of Dundee 1881 1,540 16,270 80
University of Glasgow 1451 3,340 32,465 295
University of St Andrews 1410 1,210 10,535 90
University of Stirling 1967 730 12,540, 90
University of Strathclyde 1796 1,730 24,330 70
University of Highland and Islands 2001 90 9,905 30
University of the West of Scotland 1836 585 16,105 175

The University of Glasgow is also within the top 100 for the 2020-21 Times Higher Education (THE) ranking (rank #92). Here too the University of Oxford is dominating and has been number one since 2016-17. This ranking includes 30% of teaching indicators, and also takes into international diversity and industry income, although the heavy reliance on citations and therefore English-speaking hard sciences publications has been criticised[23]. THE also publishes an Impact ranking assessing universities against the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, in which some Scottish Universities are performing particularly well: University of Edinburg (#30), Glasgow Caledonian University (#43), University of Dundee (#44), University of Strathclyde (#70), University of Aberdeen (#73).

A third recognized evaluation method of worldwide universities is QS World Universities Ranking. Published since 2003, it is based on an academic peer review, faculty/student ratio, citations, a reputation survey on graduate employers and international student and staff ratio. This is the classification used by The Guardian in the UK. The main criticisms are the ranking's reliance on subjective indicators and reputation surveys, and the integrity of data used. The top 5 is dominated by US institutions, with MIT, Stanford and Harvard sharing the top 3. Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London and University College London have been in the top 10 for a few years. In 2020-21, there are three Scottish Universities in the top 100: University of Edinburgh (#27), University of Glasgow (#77) and the University of St Andrews (#96)[24].

In addition to international rankings, Universities in the UK are also ranked under the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the country's impact evaluation system. The last iteration was 2014, which assessed the period 2008-2013. Universities are currently preparing submissions for REF 2021, however the process has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Submissions are assessed on originality, significance and rigor. There is no overall score as part of the REF itself, but THE has produced a ranking based on the REF's Grade Point Average, which is a simple measure of the average quality of research. Ranking of Scottish Universities is:

1. The University of Edinburgh (=11 in UK)

2. University of St Andrews (=21 in UK)

3. University of Glasgow (23 in UK)

4. Heriot Watt University (=33 in UK)

5. University of Strathclyde (37 in UK)

6. University of Dundee (=38 in UK)

7. University of Aberdeen (=46 in UK)

8. University of Stirling (48 in UK)

9. The Open University (=54 in UK)

10. University of the Highlands and Islands (=63 in UK)

To support the work of Universities in research and development, the Scottish Government also supports 10 Research Pools and 7 Innovation Centres, which are funded by the SFC. The pooling programme was created in 2004 to encourage HEI to share resources and respond to international competition. Now successfully implanted, the pools have been recently increasing their focus on international collaboration. The Innovation Centres aim to facilitate collaboration with the industry and draw on Scotland's research expertise.

The Innovation Centres and Research Pools recently came together to create the online platform Research Innovation Scotland (RIS), in collaboration with Interface, the knowledge connection for business agency. RIS's objective is to showcase the wide range of activities happening across the Scottish research and innovation landscape, alert actors on opportunities for collaborations and ignite new cross-sector partnerships.

Aside from HEIs, a significant proportion of Scottish public research is handled by independent research institutes, in particular in agricultural and food sciences which come under the umbrella of the Scottish Government's Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Service (RESAS). RESAS's Strategic Research Programme is carried out by 6 main research providers, of which only one (SRUC) is also a HEI funded by SFC. The others research institutes are:

  • The James Hutton Institute: internationally networked organisation founded in 2011, employing over 500 staff working on crops, soils and land use.
  • Moredun Research Institute: attached to the Moredun Foundation which was founded by farmers in 1920, dedicated to livestock health and welfare through the prevention and control of infectious diseases.
  • Rowett Institute: attached to the University of Aberdeen, it brings together extensive capabilities and expertise in nutritional research.
  • Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland, hosted at the James Hutton Institute, employs 30 staff working on the development and application of quantitative methods in agriculture, the rural economy, environment, food and health.
  • The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh: carries out research in international, UK and Scottish plant systematics and conservation.

RESAS also fund three centres of expertise that encourage links between the research institutes, HEIs, other organisations in the UK and Scottish Government policy teams. The centres of expertise are the Centre of Expertise for Waters, ClimateXChange (climate change and low carbon transition) and the Centre of Expertise of Animal Disease Outbreaks.

Finally, several Scottish Government bodies and agencies are also involved directly in public research. This includes NHS Research Scotland (public health), which is supported by the Chief Scientist Office within the Health and Social Care Directorate.

Scotland's private research: Innovation is one of the 4 pillars of Scotland's Economic Strategy[25]. The Scottish Government is committed to support research and innovation across different settings. The Economic Action Plan 2019-20[26] identified Innovation as a key area of development, based on two independent reviews (Muscatelli and Cumberford-Little reports) highlighting the need to promote collaboration between industry and academia. The Scottish Government committed to grow Scotland's business expenditure (BERD) to £1.7b by 2025. From 2018, £110m grant support will be provided to businesses over three years.

Breakdown of BERD expenditure in Scotland is published annually[27]. In 2019 the business expenditure reached b£1.4, the highest in the series and an increase of 1.5% since 2018 (greater that the 0.8& increase for the UK as a whole). Five businesses accounted for over a third of all Scottish BERD spending. Expenditure was split evenly between services and manufacturing products. R&D expenditure in services has increased rapidly since 2007 and exceeded manufacturing for the first time in 2019. This was driven by software development and technical testing and analysis. The growth sectors (as identified by the Economic Strategy), accounted for over 70% of BERD spending, led by life sciences. Overall, businesses in Scotland employed 14.646 R&D staff. Large companies account for almost two third of R%D expenditure, and over half came from foreign-owned companies.

Another source of information on business R&D in Scotland is the UK Innovation Survey[28], which is based on responses of over 14,000 businesses, of which 1,536 were based in Scotland. During the latest survey period (2016-18), the proportion of innovation-active business in Scotland was 32.2% (UK:37.6%). The UK outperformed Scotland across all innovation activities, and Northern Ireland was the only region of the UK with lower levels. Between 2014-16 and 2016-18, innovation activity dropped in both in the UK (-11.4%) and Scotland (-12.8%). It was highest for the sectors of research and experimental development on social sciences and humanities, computer & video and engineering. The largest proportion of expenditure in innovation relates to in-house R&D. The most important drivers for innovation reported by businesses were to improve quality of good or services and replace outdated products or processes. Environmental impact and new markets ranked last as motivations. Businesses with cooperation arrangements reduced from 55.3 to 42.3% between 2014-16 and 2016-18. These companies reported working mostly with suppliers, clients, and other businesses in the group, universities and public research institutes were not ranked as important source of information for innovation. The main barriers to innovation reported by businesses were related to finances and costs, as well as the outcome of Brexit, especially for smaller businesses.

France's public research: most research is conducted by higher education institutions and public research organisations. There are 72 Universities in France, plus another 100 higher education institutions (including Grandes Ecoles) also involved in research. In addition to their internal research centres (UPRUnité Propre de Recherche), universities also operate joint research units (UMRUnité Mixte de Recherche) in partnership with one of the 25 public research organisations. In total, there are over 3,000 research units, or laboratoires, administered jointly by universities and research institutes. The great majority of public research is done under the UMR model, where contracts are funded by university research, public research bodies, financing agencies (including the ANR, equivalent of UKRI but also regional development agencies), charities, business. French government funding on basic science goes for 55% to research organisations, and 45% to higher education institutions[29].

Within the public research institutes, the two largest are CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, national centre for scientific research, focusing on basic research) and CEA (Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives, atomic and alternative energy commission, applied research) – together they account for 33% of publicly funded research. The other are smaller (see Annex 4).

There are 5 research alliances that group organizations in specific research fields, with the objective to improve collaboration and encourage discussions. The Alliances are the French equivalent to Scottish research pools and were created in 2009-10 alongside the launch of the national strategy:

  • AVIESAN: Alliance Nationale pour les Sciences de la Vie et de la Santé – life and health sciences
  • ANCRE : Alliance Nationale de Coordination de la Recherche pour l'Energie – energy research
  • ALISTENE : Alliance des Sciences et Technologies du Numérique – information sciences and technologies
  • AllEnvi : Alliance Nationale de Recherche pour l'Environnement - environment
  • ATHENA : Alliance Nationale des Sciences Humaines et Sociales – human and social sciences

In addition to public research institutes, there are also a few private foundations, most of which are in the medical field and related to a specific scientist or discovery. The most famous are the Pasteur Institute and the Marie Curie Institute.

Founded by Louis Pasteur in 1888, this private non-profit is a major actor of international biomedical research. It employs nearly 2,800 staff in Paris organised in 144 research units grouped in 12 departments: cell biology & infection; developmental and stem cell biology; structural biology and chemistry; genomes and genetics; immunology; global health; microbiology; mycology; neuroscience; parasites and insect vectors; virology; computational biology. The Institute is very active internationally through a network of 32 institutions (none in the UK).

Founded in 1909, the institute employs 3000 staff working on cancer research and treatment. Their strategic priorities for 2015-20 are: breast cancer; early trials; genetics and epigenetics; immunotherapy; pediatric cancer; radiotherapy and radiation biology; sarcomas; uveal melanoma.

The French government also supports a network of public-private competitiveness clusters (pôles de compétitivité), initiated in 2004 to support innovation, economic growth, and jobs[30]. They bring together businesses, higher education and research laboratories. These structures are similar to the Innovation Centres in Scotland. There are over 50 clusters today (there were over 70 at one point) across the country.

Private research actors in France: in 2017, BERD in France reached b€33, coming at 60% from large businesses. This is 56% of the country's total GERD, although this is much lower other countries such as Japan, South Korea, Germany and the USA (but higher than the UK). Businesses are driving the increase in GERD in France, with an average of +2% investment per year between 2007 and 2017. The R&D sector employed 265,500 staff (full time equivalent), and businesses run 65% of all research activity in France. Medium and small enterprises are mostly innovating in the service sector, although a lot of those activities are related to industry (specialised scientific and technical analysis). For large businesses, 40 % of R&D is in high technology industries (space and aeronautics, informatic& electronics, pharmaceutical) or medium to high technology (and in particular automobile)[8].

Between 2014 and 2016, a third of businesses were involved in technological innovation (produce or processes). Others developed non-technological innovation in organisation or marketing for example. Overall, 56.4% of companies were innovative, just below the UK (60.3%) but well behind Germany (67%). The IT sector is a leader in innovation, with 73% innovative businesses. Like in Scotland, the number of innovative companies grows with their sizes.

Public-private partnerships are underdeveloped, with only 5.2% of public research funded by private actors in 2016 (and concentrated in non-profit organisations rather than public institutes), and just 17% businesses using public research (2014-16). However, France is ahead of other countries in OECD in terms of patent applications with public and private partners.

2.4 Funding sources

Scottish public research funding: like the rest of the UK, the Scottish research and innovation sector relies on multiple sources of funding, which have become even more complicated by the gradual devolution of powers and Brexit. Origins of funding for Universities and public research institutes for 2019-20 (Figure 5):

  • block grant administered by the SFC: Research Excellence Grant, m£236 (m£240.3 in 2020-21); Research Postgraduate Grant, £35.3 (m£35.9 in 2020-21); Universities Innovation Fund, m£13.5 (m£13.7 in 2020-21)[31]
  • competitive grants awarded by UKRI councils: 391 awards representing m£272, or 9.7% of the UK total b£2.8 investment[32]
  • Portfolio research: m£66.6 (2019-20 budget – this has increased to m£90.8 in the latest budget for 2021-22)[33]
  • Global Challenges Research Fund allocated by the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: m£11.8[31]
  • EU research programmes: Horizon 2020: m£90.8 (2019), Interreg: m£70 across the whole period (2014-2020)[34], or an average of m£10 per year. Scottish researchers have been particularly successful with EU funding, their H2020 contribution accounted for 11% of the UK's total, for a total of m€816.5 (2014-20). These schemes also include enterprise innovation, like the Vanguard Initiative.
Figure 5: Origin of public research funding in Scotland (2019)
Pie chart showing the breakdown of public research funding origins in Scotland for 2019

French public research funding: in 2017, state funded research represented 61% of public R&D of a total of b€20.5. The vast majority of those funds are issued by the Ministry for Research and Higher Education to public institutions (HEI's and research institutes) as well as innovation agencies and incentives for businesses. 15% of the remaining budget comes from public contracts and grants, which originate in majority from public entities such as ANR or the French Public Investment Bank. EU and other international sources represent 5% of funding, or b€1.1 (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Origin of public research funds in France (2017) [8]
Pie chart showing the breakdown of public research funding origins in France for 2016

France received the second higher contribution from the Horizon 2020 programme (2014-2020), after Germany. The CNRS and the CEA are the two first organisations with the greatest number of project participations. The country received 11% of the whole programme funding, representing b€6.9 over 7 years.



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