At a recent cross-party hearing before the Scottish Affairs Committee in Westminster, eight Members of Parliament were keen to hear from Alliance Director Dr Mette High on the opportunities and challenges faced by researchers in Scotland. Representing the Scottish Funding Council-funded Alliances for Research Challenges (ARCs), she explained that the Alliances are new and dynamic engines of impactful interdisciplinary cross-sector collaborations. They are much-needed breaks from the status quo – rather than working in traditional silos of expertise and knowledge; the Alliances offer diverse stakeholders the opportunity to join a collaborative community. As she stressed in Westminster, “Complex challenges will require complex teams, complex skillsets and complex methodologies.” It is this complexity that the ARCs are so well-positioned to tackle as they bring together researchers across Scotland with industry, business, government, and community organisations on key Scottish Government priority areas.
(source: Parliamentary TV live feed)
At a time when Scottish Higher Education is undergoing a funding squeeze from the Scottish Government, there is mounting concern that this could affect the sector’s ability to compete with the rest of the UK and successfully secure a proportional share of research grant funding. The Higher Education sector is crucial for the nation’s economy – Scotland is home to more than 10% of the UK’s researchers and, similarly, more than 10% of the UK’s university students. Yet, according to the UKRI’s 2023 annual report, Scotland only secured about 8% of research council funding and about 4% of Innovate UK R&D funding, an amount that continues to decline. To ensure that Scotland remains at the forefront of global research, Dr High emphasised the critical importance of building and sustaining attractive research communities in Scotland. Without this, we will see the best and brightest go elsewhere. As she put it to the Committee, “At the end of the day, we are a sector of people, and if we do not have the people, we do not have the sector.”