Supporting research and scholarship

Introduction
4.85 Scotland has an outstanding research reputation in many areas. Scottish higher education research makes significant contributions to the wealth of the nation and its general health and wellbeing. These benefits extend across a wide range of economic and social interests. To ensure that they continue to accrue, the higher education sector's capacity to maximise the potential of its graduates and scholars and to conduct innovative leading edge research and scholarship should be national priorities. We are pleased to note that Scotland produces just over one per cent of all scientific publications in refereed journals. Using this measure on a per capita basis, Scotland is ranked third in the world.58

4.86 It is estimated that in 1996/97, nearly 300 million of research will be conducted in Scottish higher education institutions and slightly over 100 million of these funds will be allocated by SHEFC.57 To maximise this and future investment, we seek to ensure a research climate that:

  • is attuned to the needs of a high technology 21st century:
  • sustains and enhances Scotland's contribution and standing in the world research community;
  • contributes to a high quality of life and prosperity for the people of Scotland and the UK.

Quality and selectivity
4.87
We are convinced that now, as in the future, one of the most important aspects of Scottish competitiveness will arise from our ability to innovate, and to develop and exploit knowledge. We believe that this can only be achieved through our capacity to conduct outstanding research. We strongly support the principle, reinforced by the National Committee, of selectivity in research funding on the basis of excellence at the individual, group and departmental level.

4.88 We believe that selectivity in the funding of research should take into consideration:

  • excellence;
  • contribution to quality of life;
  • contribution to culture;
  • demonstrated national or regional interests;
  • relevance to economic welfare.

4.89 We acknowledge that, in general, there has to be greater concentration of research funding in the future. This is already happening in Scotland where at present nearly 65 per cent of the funding stream allocated on the basis of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) conducted in 1996/97 was concentrated in three higher education institutions. Most of the remaining funding was distributed to the pre-1992 universities (see Table 2.3).

4.90 We believe it important that for the future, account will also have to be taken of how we might selectively broaden our research base by building upon and developing new and upcoming areas of research which are relevant to our culture, national interests and industry irrespective of where they arise. Novelty and innovation must be encouraged across the higher education sector and SHEFC should seek to ensure that this issue is addressed.

4.91 We note that SHEFC proposes 'increasing the weight given to the external research income factor' in the allocation of its RAE-based research grant.59 This will encourage improved links with those who use and apply the research findings. We commend this proposal.

Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)
4.92 A robust, credible and fair mechanism based upon subject expertise needs to be in place in order to assess the quality of research submissions. Little evidence was presented to us that showed the RAE to be overly burdensome to institutions in Scotland although we accept that pressures occur for panel members who must assess the quality of research across a discipline in a relatively short time. Nevertheless, we support the continuance of the RAE.

4.93 In the current RAE funding round in Scotland (as in the rest of the UK), only departments rated 3b or above will receive any RAE funding. We also note that Scottish higher education institutions are already selective in whom they submit to the RAE. In 1996, 33 per cent of staff at Scottish higher education institutions were not submitted for assessment in the RAE. Of the remainder who did, almost 60 per cent were rated 4 or better whilst almost 88 per cent were rated 3b or above (see Table 2.4). We believe that public funding for research of national and international standing should continue to be available on a competitive basis.

Postgraduate research training
4.94
We support the development of a code of practice that ensures a high quality period of training for research postgraduate students. The National Committee's proposal to verify institutional adherence to this code is appropriate.

Funding
4.95
We support the principles adopted by the National Committee. These are:

  • excellence should be supported;
  • different types of research should be supported by different streams of funding - including support for applied and regional research;
  • adequate funding for infrastructure to support high quality research should be provided;
  • where research is selected for support, it must be fully funded;
  • funding policies to support research should promote as far as possible, not devalue teaching;
  • funding streams should be clear and transparent.

4.96 These principles are important if a dynamic research environment in Scotland is to be achieved. We commend SHEFC for already establishing clear and transparent research funding procedures in Scotland.

4.97 We welcome the National Committee's call for multiple streams of funding which support the different purposes of research as identified by the National Committee. Our views on these are discussed below.

4.98 The four funding streams are:

  • selective support for research capability comes from the funding bodies. In Scotland, SHEFC does this on the basis of proven performance as measured by the RAE, through its research development grant and by other mechanisms;
  • Research Council funding allocated on the basis of specific research grant proposals submitted and considered in competition across the whole of the UK;
  • the proposed Industrial Partnership Development Fund (IPDF) is aimed at attracting matching funds from business and industry in support of research in the higher education sector at the regional and local level;
  • the proposed Infrastructure Fund for Excellence is designed to operate as a revolving loan fund to support infrastructure in excellent research departments that can demonstrate real need.

Research support from the funding bodies
4.99
SHEFC must continue to support non-Research Council funded research in Scotland and we are firmly of the view that there be no transfer of funds out of the SHEFC provision to the centralised Research Council system. We believe that the current SHEFC provision should be maintained, or preferably enhanced, and that it be used to sustain, enhance and further develop its strategic thrust in support of the Scottish higher education system on a competitive basis. As part of its function it should seek to encourage novelty and innovation via pump priming mechanisms across the Scottish higher education sector.

4.100 Whilst adhering strongly to this view, we also believe that 'research and teaching are mutually enhancing ... students whose course gives them something of the research ethos will benefit educationally.'60

4.101 We are, therefore, convinced that higher education teaching in Scotland should be complemented by scholarship and research. Through such engagement, we believe that teachers will be able to remain abreast of their subject and transmit this knowledge in a dynamic way. We also believe that the opportunity to pursue scholarship and research should contribute to raising the status and standing of the teaching profession. In this light, we warmly endorse the establishment of the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. We have noted the National Committee's view about the separate purposes of 'corporate' and 'private' research activities. It is important that each academic staff member has the prospect of engaging in scholarship and research and in this respect we endorse the National Committee's view.

4.102 SHEFC's research funding arrangements should recognise and support many types of research activity although we do not think this latter type of research, linked to scholarship and teaching, should be funded competitively through the RAE or have available similar levels of funding. Instead, we support the National Committee's recommendation to create a research funding stream that makes it attractive for departments or institutions who feel their main strength is in teaching to opt out of the RAE. We think it is important to note that this approach will not discourage or penalise departments that just miss RAE funding. To ensure that this happens we propose a modest per capita allocation of funding related to the number of permanent teaching staff who do not submit to the RAE.

Research Council funding
4.103
Research Council grants have to be supported in full. There has been ambiguity in the past and this should be removed. In 1995-96, Scottish higher education attracted almost 66 million in research council grants (see Table 2.6). We estimate that Scottish higher education would require approximately 16 million in additional funding in order to meet the full cost of these projects.61 We, therefore, share the National Committee's concern about indirect cost recovery with respect to these grants and fully endorse the National Committee recommendations that call for greater understanding and transparency in relation to these costs. We are unequivocal in our belief that Research Council grants must in future fund all supported projects properly and adequately. We support the call by the National Committee, that the government should allocate new funding to support the current volume of Research Council projects at full cost (apart from academic salaries).

Industrial Partnership Development Fund (IPDF)
4.104
We endorse the newly proposed IPDF. We anticipate that SHEFC and SOEID will have a major role in the implementation of this funding stream in Scotland. It will provide a useful mechanism for attracting industry support for applied research, which we support. In considering this proposal we have noted that, with great success, SHEFC has now transformed the Research Development Grant into a competitive source of funding to assist institutions in responding to Technology Foresight. We believe that the aims of these two funds are not dissimilar and once the details of the IPDF are finalised, and building upon existing achievements, they might usefully be pooled together to create a single well-sourced funding stream for this strand of Scottish research.

Infrastructure fund for excellence in research
4.105
We fully support the National Committee's recommendation to establish a loan fund for infrastructure for a limited number of top quality research departments. Its rapid establishment would be timely in assisting higher education institutions in addressing the needs of an ageing research infrastructure that can no longer be supported through funding body allocations alone. We believe that this funding stream will be well-received and used by Scottish higher education institutions when funds become available.

Arts and Humanities Research Council
4.106
The Scottish Studentship Scheme operated by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) offers up to 75 new studentships a year for advanced postgraduate higher degrees in the arts and the humanities. In 1996/97, the SAAS received nearly 400 applications for these places. We agree with the National Committee that more needs to be done to secure research in these discipline areas.62

We, therefore, support the establishment of a separate Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and welcome the inclusion of design as part of its remit. Funding to support the AHRC should not be at the expense of the science and technology research base.



Collaboration

Incentives
4.107
We believe that greater collaboration in research is needed across the sector generally, as multidisciplinary research becomes increasingly important, and as the demands for, and the costs of, leading edge technologies and facilities escalate. We share the view of the National Committee that mechanisms must be found to ensure that outstanding researchers, irrespective of location be eligible for involvement in collaborative programmes and have access to necessary facilities. Incentives to encourage this approach should be found.

Centres of research excellence
4.108
We believe that the promotion and development of virtual interdisciplinary research centres of excellence in Scotland should be a priority given the likely increase in the concentration of research funding. These centres should encourage and support further collaborative links covering the sharing of staff, equipment such as C&IT, and facilities across Scottish and other UK-wide institutions.

Recommendation 11
We recommend to the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council that it should identify how it might encourage and facilitate research collaboration within its funding streams.

Recommendation 12
We recommend to the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council that it should give further consideration to how, and on what basis, collaborative research centres might be best facilitated and organised in Scotland.

Recommendation 13
We recommend to the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council and the Research Councils that they should, as appropriate, make available additional funding to ensure that outstanding researchers, irrespective of location, have access to research facilities.

Employer partnerships
4.109
We believe that research undertaken in collaboration with business, industry and commerce will become increasingly important and that this will help Scotland and the UK to retain a competitive edge and contribute to national prosperity. Greater efficiencies in the conduct of research can also be achieved by the sharing of facilities, skills and expertise. We have already noted our support for the establishment of the Industrial Partnership Development Fund which will support applied research and regional development. We welcome this recommendation as it creates an incentive for Scottish industry and academia to combine their talents for the benefit of the Scottish economy.

4.110 There are good examples across the Scottish higher education sector where links with industry have been established and where new companies have been developed from the academic research base by the higher education institutions themselves or with support from the Enterprise network and the private sector, including venture capitalists. New innovative high technology companies are springing up particularly, but not exclusively, in the life sciences, biotechnology and engineering areas which will be important globally in the next century. The involvement of Scottish Enterprise in the commercialisation of science and technology through its Technology Ventures programme has been valuable.

4.111 Although indigenous industry is not yet a major financial supporter of research in higher education institutions in Scotland, funding from employers in support of research is likely to grow in future. We commend the work undertaken by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Scottish Enterprise to improve the commercialisation of institutional research.

Industry-linked postgraduate qualifications
4.112
We found that many researchers in Europe seeking a postgraduate qualification carried out their research within a company rather than in a higher education institution. In all cases the project was company-specific and the outcome was important to the business. The academic supervisors involved in these projects became familiar with the company's research needs and in some cases prompted ongoing research in their own institution in a similar subject area. It improved the links between the two organisations in a meaningful way. We commend this approach.

Recommendation 14
We recommend to higher education institutions that they should identify and establish links with industry to foster and facilitate work-based research training. These links should enable industry staff to gain high quality postgraduate qualifications through in-house research projects.

Exploitation
4.113
We have noted the economic links between research, national wealth and local/regional regeneration. We, therefore, support the National Committee's recommendations to promote greater exploitation of outputs from higher education. In particular, we believe that higher education instititions have to pay greater attention to this through staff training and by providing incentives to those academics whose work generates income for their institution from business, industry and commerce. We see particular benefit in the further development of offices which can link the academic and industrial bases. The staff must be sensitive to academic needs, foster academic/industrial links, develop powerful links with industry and the private sector, and be fully competent in ensuring that intellectual property is generated, protected and exploited. We believe that revenues generated by the exploitation of intellectual property could provide a substantial additional source of income to institutions. We also welcome the National Committee's call for the establishment of 'technology incubators' to assist institutions and researchers in developing commercial aspects of their research. There are already substantial successes of this type in a small number of institutions in Scotland and more would clearly be welcome. We anticipate an increasing stream of commercially important research emanating from the higher education research base.

Technology Foresight
4.114
The Technology Foresight programme 'represents the most comprehensive inventory of national science and technology assets in three decades involving both academic and industrial constituencies'.63 It is designed to identify market opportunities and new technologies which would enhance wealth creation and quality of life. We strongly support this initiative (recently renamed Foresight by the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) and its aims, and note with approval that The Scottish Office Education and Industry Department (SOEID), the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) and the Royal Society of Edinburgh promote it through various continuing activities. We welcome SHEFC's proposals to encourage higher education institutions to give greater attention to Foresight through core activities and by examining ways in which higher education institutions are using Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) based grants in responding to Foresight. It must continue to be a key priority area for Scottish higher education research and development in the long term.

4.115 In this section of the report we have noted the continuing importance of research conducted within higher education. But we see this as only one aspect of the on-going research efforts now taking place in Scotland. Business, industry and commerce are also making valuable contributions to our research base. We have already called for the establishment of stronger collaborative links and partnerships with these private interests in order to build upon and create new forms and contexts of knowledge. We have also noted the National Committee's call for the establishment of an independent body to advise Government on the direction of national policies for the public funding of research in higher education. However, to make these links effective, we are convinced that there is also a need to consider the coherence of Scottish research efforts at the broadest possible level.

4.116 Overall, we believe that Scotland has a strong and innovative research base upon which it can build with confidence for the future. As part of the UK, Scotland must play its full part in shaping UK policy on research and development against a global backdrop. Additionally, and importantly, however, its small size and composite structure offers particular opportunities for unique regional approaches targeted at national prosperity and quality of life. Its research strengths in industry and academia and in areas such as information technology, biotechnology, agriculture, the environment, health, energy and transport, provide an opportunity, through better integration, for a strategic approach to the needs of the country. This should be based upon well-targeted multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches built around outstandingly able people and centres of excellence.

Recommendation 15
We recommend that the Secretary of State for Scotland should consider filling the post of Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland. One of his or her primary responsibilities would be to identify and develop, where possible, from the diverse research base in Scotland, an integrated strategy for Scottish research.

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