Higher education research in an independent Scotland

Our vision for the future of university research in an independent Scotland.


The ability to determine our own destiny - with independence we will have full powers to develop a funding policy and landscape tailored to Scotland's strengths and needs and will ensure that the levels of public investment in university research are sufficient to enable our researchers and universities to remain internationally competitive

53. Public funding for university research in Scotland and across the UK is currently delivered by a dual support system comprising:

(i) a block grant given by the funding council of each country (funded from devolved budgets) and;

(ii) competitively awarded grants from the UK-wide Research Councils (funded through the tax base).

54. These two sources make up the majority of university research income. In 2012/13 Scottish universities received a third of their research income (£330 million) from the Scottish Funding Council and won a further quarter (£242 million) in competitive funding from the Research Councils and National Academies (representing 15.7% of the £1.5 billion won by UK HEIs). Additional public funds can be won from other sources - see Table 1 and Figure 3 below.

Table 1: Sources of Scottish universities' income from research grants and contracts (% of total research grants and contract income) [29]

Income 2012/13
(£ million)

% from research and grants

Scottish Funding Council



Research Councils and National Academies



UK (incl. Scotland) based Charities



UK (incl. Scotland) central government/local
authorities, health and hospital authorities



EU government bodies, charities, industry,
commerce and public corporations



UK (incl. Scotland) industry, commerce and
public corporations



Non- EU based charities, industry, commerce and public corporations



Other sources






Figure 3: University research income 2012/13 (£969 million)


55. By focusing on funding won by HEIs, the HESA figures however, do not represent the totality of Research Council funding accruing to Scotland. According to data provided by the RCUK, Scotland secured £307 million from the Research Councils in 2012/13 representing 10.7% of total Research Council spend of £2.9 billion. Within this overall figure, Scotland secured 13.1% of the £2.0 billion funding to HEIs (for grants, studentships and fellowships) and 5.4% of £927 million funding to Research Council institutes, independent research organisations ( IROs) and infrastructure funding (see Table 2 and Figure 4) [30] .

Table 2: Estimated Research Council expenditure (£m)




Average for 2010/11 to 2012/13

Research funding to HEIs including grants, studentships, fellowships

UK spend





Scotland spend





% spend in Scotland





Research funding to Research Council Institutes, IROs, infrastructure funding

UK spend





Scotland spend





% spend in Scotland





Total Research Council expenditure

UK spend





Scotland spend





% spend in Scotland





Figure 4: Share of Research Council spend by country 2012/13


56. The block grants that universities across the UK receive for research is predominantly quality related (QR) (Research Excellence Grant, REG, in Scotland) funding, allocated on the basis of prior performance. The key data for assessing the distribution of QR funding are the size of research groups and the quality of work as judged by a cross- UK assessment of research quality developed and delivered through a partnership of the four funding bodies [31] . The amount and distribution of QR money is determined within each nation.

57. Publicly-funded investment by the Scottish Funding Council is also used to support Scottish priorities reflecting both the strengths and needs of our research base and the economic and societal issues that require to be addressed.

The Research Assessment Exercise ( RAE) ranked research on the basis of its originality, significance and rigour as unclassified or one of:

4* - world-leading;

3* - internationally excellent;

2* - internationally recognised;

1* - nationally recognised.

In the 2008 RAE, 15% of research submitted from Scotland was classified as world-leading [32] .

58. The UK also operates as a 'single research area' supporting collaborative research and access to facilities for researchers throughout the UK.

Future Funding Options

59. The dual support system, comprising funding from the Scottish Funding Council (based on research quality and addressing Scottish priorities) and competitively awarded grants from Research Councils (supporting research excellence), works well. We will maintain this approach with independence.

60. Within this overarching approach there are a number of options for research funding. A review of research funding in Scotland undertaken by Professor Ian Diamond, Principal University of Aberdeen and former Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council, identified a number of options including:

a) Maintenance of the current single research area arrangements including pan- UK Research Councils.

61. This option would facilitate continuing collaborative research enabling world-class researchers across Scotland and the rest of the UK to collaborate across a wide range of disciplines without the prospect of joint projects having to be peer reviewed twice in different jurisdictions and to be successful in both to be funded. It would also maintain a common framework for peer review (ensuring consistent quality assessment) and support economies of scale in the funding of research and scientific facilities.

b) Establish a Scottish Research Council

62. While scale would argue against replicating a framework of seven Research Councils, a second option would be to establish a Scottish Research Councilwith a small number of disciplinary sub-sections. Such a model would allow Scotland to retain a major programme of blue skies research across all disciplines and identify funding priorities directly in line with Scottish interests and priorities.

63. A Scottish Research Council might fulfil a number of roles including: funding programmes and research studentships, leading decisions on the allocation of research funds and representing Scotland's interests in international discussions around use of facilities and locations of international initiatives. In such circumstances Scotland would ensure that the levels of public investment in university research enable our researchers to remain internationally competitive. As part of this commitment we guarantee that current levels of government investment in university research (through SFC and the Research Councils) will be at least maintained while also supporting universities in securing additional research investment from extended collaborations with overseas partners and with the private sector.

64. A Scottish Research Council might also be used as a mechanism to route funding into pan- UK Research Councils ensuring that funding decisions are underpinned by the Haldane Principle.

c) A Mixed Model

65. Thirdly, Scotland could consider establishing a 'mixed model' combining a Scottish Research Council with buying into funding programmes in other countries, most notably those of RCUK, where these overlapped with Scottish priorities - much as currently happens in areas of devolved responsibility. For example, devolved rural research monies were used to enter into a partnership with RCUK for the Living with Environmental Change research programme while SFC used devolved funds, to join an ESRC/ AHRC initiative on Language Based Area Studies enabling funding of Centres in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

66. There would also be scope for exploring the development of common research areas and development of common research programmes with other countries both within Europe and beyond including, for example, our Nordic neighbours (see Paragraphs 38- 45).

67. At the same time, and outwith the future funding options set out above, we will review existing research funds within Scottish Government and, where appropriate, partner bodies including Scottish Enterprise to explore the scope for bringing together these funds into a small number of research streams. The current collaboration between Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise in establishing a network of Innovation Centres demonstrates the benefits of a partnership approach. Building on this work to consolidate or align different research funding streams would enable resources of scale to be directed at national priorities.

Our Approach

68. We recognise the benefits - for the academic community, business and research charities - of maintaining long-term stability in research funding and systems that support initiatives of scale and researchers working together across boundaries. With independence we would seek to agree continuity of a single research area with the UK with shared Research Councils (Option a) recognising the benefits this brings to academic communities both north and south of the border in terms of collaboration, enabling the UK to benefit from Scottish academic expertise (and vice versa) and supporting a world leading research base.

69. As part of a common research area, universities across the UK would continue to benefit from the economies of scale to be achieved in shared access to research and scientific facilities. These include facilities run by individual universities and research institutes, those run in partnership with other funders and those owned and operated by RCUK. There are currently 49 RCUK owned and operated facilities in the UK. These include the National Nuclear Laboratory, the Diamond Light Source, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Daresbury. Seven of these facilities are located in Scotland including ARCHER (Academic Research Computing High End Resource), and the UK ATC (Astronomy Technology Centre).

70. These Research Council facilities are shared assets and a shared resource available to researchers across all of the UK as well as, in some instances, available for use by academia and industry in the UK and Europe. At the same time, subscription funding from the RCUK allows access to international facilities for researchers based in Scotland and the rest of the UK including, for example, the accelerators at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the telescopes of the European Southern Observatory ( ESO) and the neutron facilities at Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL).

71. Both Scotland and the rest of the UK benefit from sharing research facilities and infrastructure which supports collaboration and efficiency. The Wakeham Review, Financial Sustainability and Efficiency in Full Economic Costing of Research in UK Higher Education Institutions (2010), made two specific recommendations which are relevant here:

  • Recommendation 7 - We consider that the greater intensity of utilisation of assets by HEIs should be encouraged, particularly the sharing of research equipment and facilities.
  • Recommendation 14 - We recommend that the assessment processes of the Research Councils should encourage more intensive use of existing assets across the research base.

72. The Scottish Government accepts the validity of these recommendations. Scotland and the rest of the UK's research base can only be made stronger with increased collaboration and sharing of facilities both within and between countries. The current rules put in place by the Research Councils regarding capital funding on research grants requires applicants to show that they have looked at alternative provision, such as sharing other available assets either locally or further afield; it requires universities to commit co-funding from their own resources in proposals for mid-range equipment; and requires the submission of a strategic business case, making reference to broader cross- UK strategic considerations regarding the asset and its location, on high-cost assets.

73. The Scottish Government would support a similar approach continuing post-independence. As a partner and direct co-funder of the Research Councils we would support a strong emphasis on sharing research equipment and facilities to the benefit of the academic community in both countries. We would also support funding collaborations with other funders including charities, business and universities themselves. Our funding for shared Research Councils would also support subscription costs, where required, for access to facilities based outwith the UK. Scottish researchers would also continue to access facilities funded by other bodies based on science excellence in collaboration with other partners from across the UK and beyond much as they do now.

The Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation (CMAC) based at the University of Strathclyde is an international technological collaboration with global firms (including GSK, Novartis, AstraZeneca), Cancer Research UK and academic partners at the Universities of Bath, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt, and Loughborough.

The Centre's internationally-leading research team are working pre-competitively to establish a world-class facility to accelerate innovative technology delivery and establish new supply chains for medicines. In addition to investment from GSK, Novartis, AstraZeneca and Cancer Research UK, public funding has been received from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council ( EPSRC), the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF), the Scottish Funding Council, the UK Technology Strategy Board and the European Union.

The combination of public and private sector investment allows these facilities to further develop in order to support the cutting-edge manufacturing research programme. In strengthening the National Centre's capabilities, the state-of-the-art facilities will not only benefit researchers at Strathclyde but the wider UK academic and industrial community.

The GreenCow facility is part of Scotland's Rural College ( SRUC) and located at their Beef and Sheep Research Centre at the Bush Estate near Edinburgh. Opened in March 2011, it is a world-class research facility funded by the European Regions Development Fund, the Scottish Government and SRUC and it is used for inter-linking projects funded by Defra, the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations, together with EBLEX (the organisation for beef and lamb levy payers in England).

The data collected from GreenCow will help inform models used to advise policy makers and industry on farming methods with a lower carbon footprint and will assist research on reducing livestock greenhouse gas emissions.

The facility has been integral to the research carried out by the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Inventory Research Platform, a partnership of universities, research institutes and private companies delivering one of the largest government funded research programmes in the United Kingdom on measuring and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Copies of GreenCow are being built in Brazil, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, showing that Scotland is leading the way in reducing uncertainties in the area of methane emissions from livestock.

74. Scotland would also continue to participate in a common framework for the assessment of research quality - as it has chosen to do since devolution - providing an important benchmark of research quality that serves academics north and south of the border well supporting collaboration across the UK and with partners in Europe and further afield.

75. As well as benefitting universities in Scotland and the rest of the UK, continued operation as a common research area would be welcomed by businesses and charities facilitating continued collaborative projects with a range of institutions from across the UK.

"Running a single overall excellence-based system for research funding across the UK works very well for everyone." David Willetts Minister for UK Universities and Science, Holyrood Magazine, January 2013

"I can't see it's in the interests of anyone in the rest of the UK to want to exclude Scotland, nor is it in the interest of Scotland to be excluded from collaboration."Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Principal of The University of Aberdeen and former Chief Executive, Economic and Social Research Council, Scotland on Sunday, 1 September 2013

" ..there is no reason why any form of constitutional change should preclude participation in higher order Research Councils." Professor Sir Timothy O'Shea, Principal of Edinburgh University, The Times, 13 April 2013

"We strongly support Scotland retaining its position in a single research ecosystem... We would like to see a single research system continue whether there is a yes vote for independence or not." Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of Economic and Social Research Council, representing Research Councils UK, Education and Culture Committee, Official Report 25 March 2014

76. We believe that maintaining a single research area and shared Research Councils would be in the interests of both Scotland and the rest of the UK and with independence we would seek to agree continuity of the Research Councils and their role in funding research in Scotland, including access to shared facilities and datasets for the benefit of researchers across the UK.

77. As highlighted in Paragraph 5, the excellence of the Scottish research base is reflected in Scotland winning a greater than population share of Research Council competitive awards and a slightly greater share of overall Research Council funding. It has been suggested that Scotland might be required to contribute funding in line with the proportion of funding secured by Scottish universities. We believe that the allocation of research funding via shared Research Councils should be based on merit not geography and with independence, we would intend to negotiate with the UK Government a fair funding formula for Scotland's contribution based on population share but taking reasonable account of the fact that the amount of research funding received by Scottish institutions from the Research Councils may reflect higher or lower levels of funding.

78. At the same time we do not consider that Scotland is unfairly advantaged in the current system. Over the three years, 2010/11 to 2012/13, Scotland secured 10.6% of total research council spend while contributing 9.4% of UK tax receipts with the difference over the three years ranging from just 0.2 percentage points to 2 percentage points. It is also important to note that Scotland's public finances are currently in a stronger position than the UK as a whole providing a strong basis for continued and enhanced investment in the research base.

79. The National Statistics publications, Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland ( GERS) provides estimates of Scotland's public finances under the current constitutional framework [33] . In doing so it estimates all tax revenue generated in Scotland and all public spending undertaken on behalf of Scotland. When quantifying public spending for Scotland, all spending undertaken directly for Scottish residents and businesses by every tier of government, including the UK Government, the Scottish Government and Scottish Local Authorities is included. This includes the funding received by Scottish universities from the Research Councils.

80. Analysis of the official statistics included in GERS shows that over the period from 2008/09 to 2012/13, Scotland was in a stronger fiscal position than the UK as a whole. When expressed in cash terms, this relatively stronger fiscal position was equivalent to £8.3 billion, or £1,600 per person [34] . It is therefore clear that Scotland has the financial capacity to maintain funding for the activities funded by the Research Councils in Scotland at their current level.

81. With independence, Scotland's contribution to the Research Councils would come from the Scottish Government budget. This would create more transparency and clearer accountability around our investment enabling Scottish interests - such as our commitment to enhanced postgraduate training - to be better and more consistently reflected in the identification of Research Council priorities. More widely, we would also use the opportunity provided through independence to enhance Scotland's input into the running and functioning of the Research Councils.

82. In the spirit of the current arrangements we would ensure that the Research Councils continue to make awards on the basis of merit and in line with the Haldane Principle recognising that decisions about what research to fund are best taken by researchers. We would also support continued funding of fundamental 'blue sky' research as an essential underpinning of innovation and critical to attracting inward investment.

83. Working with the rest of the UK as part of a single research area is consistent with the approach we have taken since devolution where we have consistently supported and been active partners in cross- UK wide systems and processes (such as the UK-wide Research Excellence Framework (REF)) and invested devolved research budgets in cross- UK research programmes recognising the importance of collaboration in research and the value of sharing expertise across geographical boundaries.

84. For example, in health, the Chief Scientist Office ( CSO) within the Scottish Government co-funds a number of research units jointly with the Medical Research Council ( MRC), such as the MRC/ CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit and the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy, and is a member of a number of funding consortia involving UK Research Councils, charities and government departments. Initiatives funded through such consortia include the National Prevention Research Initiative, the Translational Infection Research Initiative and the eHealth Informatics Research Centres initiative.

85. The CSO also contributes to a number of National Institute of Health Research ( NIHR) funding streams so that Scottish priorities are taken into account in the development of the programmes, and to ensure that researchers in Scotland are eligible to apply. This funding model has been highly successful. Researchers based in Scotland are estimated to have won 9.8% of Medical Research Council funding in 2011/12, but 14.6% of NIHR awards in the funding streams in which we participate.

86. It also aligns with recent initiatives by the Research Councils to extend collaborations and collaborative funding arrangements with partners outwith the UK. For example, Research Councils UK ( RCUK) recently signed a Statement of Intent with Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR) in Luxembourg introducing a 'Lead Agency' arrangement. Under this arrangement UK and Luxembourg researchers who want to work together can write a single collaborative proposal that goes through a single peer review process rather than having to make separate bids to their own funding councils. This avoids the risk of 'double jeopardy' where funding might be approved in one country but not in the other.

87. Similarly, in November 2013 the Arts and Humanities Research Council ( AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council ( ESRC) signed an agreement with the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) within which the parties agree to reciprocally open their national research project funding schemes to collaborative proposals involving researchers from the other country.

"Addressing the major global societal challenges requires collaboration across disciplines and national boundaries. Like the AHRC and ESRC, the SNSF is committed to finding ways to remove barriers to international collaboration, allowing the brightest minds to work together regardless of where they are based. Opening up national project funding to international co-investigators is a simple and effective way of encouraging such collaboration and I am therefore pleased to sign this joint statement, which I hope this will be the first of several with other sister agencies internationally.'' Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of Economic and Social Research Council, on the signing of the agreement [35]

88. More widely, through Science Europe - an organisation set up to promote the collective interests of the Research Funding and Research Performing Organisations of Europe - the RCUK have developed a 'toolkit' comprising a number of mechanisms (including Lead Agency arrangements) to facilitate cross-border research collaboration within Europe [36] .

89. RCUK is also exploring wider international collaborations and have recently entered into a new two-way lead agency agreement with the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) that enables a simplified and flexible process for researchers wishing to apply for UK- US collaborative research funding. The agreement will be in place until 2018 and an operational management plan has been put in place, which will lay the foundation for future collaborations between the Research Councils and other NSF Directorates, as well as between RCUK and other national funding agencies [37] .

In a programme designed to transform future farming while reducing pollution and energy demands, researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Imperial College London, are to work together with the Carnegie Institution of Science, Pennsylvania State University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, on a collaboration funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council ( BBSRC) and US National Science Foundation (NSF) to address the growing global food demand, which will need 190.4M tonnes of nitrogen-fertiliser by 2015. The goal is to provide plants with the capacity to harvest nitrogen from the environment to make their own fertilizer rather than having it provided for them.

90. Maintaining a single research area and common systems and processes is also consistent with the drive at a European level to increase transnational research co-operation, collaboration and partnership (see Paragraph 39) which we would be better-placed to support and promote as an independent nation.


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