CEE Director Dr Mette High was invited to participate in a recent cross-party Committee hearing in Westminster on the opportunities and challenges faced by researchers in Scotland. In her role as Director of the Scottish Research Alliance for Energy, Homes and Livelihoods – and representing all the Alliances for Research Challenges (ARCs) funded by the Scottish Funding Council – Dr High explained the role of these Alliances as new and exciting 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 invitations to join a collaborative community. As she said in Westminster, “How do we address complex challenges? Complex challenges will require complex teams, complex skillsets and complex methodologies.” It is this complexity that the ARCs are so well-positioned to deal with as they bring together researchers across Scotland with industry, business, government, and community organisations on key Scottish Government priority areas.
At a time when Scottish Higher Education is undergoing a funding squeeze from the Scottish Government, there is 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 UK’s researchers and, similarly, more than 10% of 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 that it is extra important that we build and sustain attractive research communities in Scotland. If not, 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.”