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Helen Cross, SFC’s Director of Research and Innovation introduces our new Alliances for Research Challenges

Scotland is abundant in many things, and research comes pretty high up the list. We have significant national research strengths, reconfirmed by the latest UK-wide assessment of university research, and huge opportunities to secure investment and deliver high value jobs and growth as a result of our research competitiveness. But, like every nation, we also have an abundance of challenges. Arguably, the most significant of these is the climate emergency, but they also include the cost-of-living crisis and recovery from the covid-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, research and knowledge exchange are a critical national tool in addressing these challenges, and SFC’s new Alliances for Research Challenges (ARCs) aim to galvanise new connections across Scotland’s excellent research base  with opportunities to address Scottish Government priorities.

Our new SFC Alliances for Research Challenges (ARCs)

Last year, we announced the key challenge areas where ARCs would be developed, with support from the Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training. Today, I am delighted to announce three ARCs each focused on a key challenge area for Scotland.

The Brain Health Alliance will build cross sectoral, multi-disciplinary collaborations to progress important research around the concept of lifelong brain health in Scotland, finding solutions to the societal challenges associated with brain ageing. It aims to make Scotland the go-to destination for brain health research.

The Scottish Alliance for Food (SCAF) will bring together researchers from the social, natural and applied sciences, arts and humanities to address crucial research questions focused on creating a sustainable, healthy and fair food future that benefits both society and the environment, acknowledging the importance of food not only to health, wellbeing and sustainability but also to identity, culture and the environment.

The Scottish Research Alliance for Energy, Homes and Livelihoods will focus on the challenge of how Scotland can become a climate-aligned New Zero society that is inclusive, equitable and achievable. This ARC will bring together researchers, industry, business, policy and community partners to work with the country’s households to make sustainable energy transition a viable reality for everyone.

The three ARCs are led by the Universities of Glasgow (Brain Health and SCAF) and St Andrews (Energy, Homes and Livelihood), and with membership spanning fifteen Scottish universities.

We are undertaking further development of a fourth proposed ARC on Quantum Technologies. Quantum technologies are recognised in Scottish Government strategies and are the focus of a number of high value UKRI and other funding calls. A short period of further development of the Quantum ARC is a timely opportunity to position SFC’s investment to fully capitalise on these opportunities and galvanise connections across disciplines and the Scottish sector.

So, what are ARCs?

Alliances for Research Challenges (ARCs) connect Scotland’s research excellence to Scotland’s national challenges, building on our distinctive collaborative ethos and our world-class universities.

Think of ARCs as a type of system glue that coordinates the research community across disciplines, institutions and sectors and builds connections with Research Pools, Innovation Centres, research institutes, industry partners, third-sector collaborators, policymakers, and the people of Scotland. ARCs build on SFC’s investments in Research Pools which are now self-sustaining and continuing to add value to Scotland’s research system.

ARCs have the exciting potential to leverage significant additional funding into our research system by connecting the right people and harnessing the right opportunities to ensure Scottish researchers are best-placed to respond to research funding opportunities as they arise. ARCs will also connect Scottish Government priorities with areas of strength within our publicly funded research system.

Why are ARCs important?

ARCs take forward the recommendation from our Review of Tertiary Education and Research to create next generation networks with a focus on interdisciplinary challenge-oriented research collaboration, leveraging additional funding and fostering early career researcher communities and training. They are part of SFC’s response to the changing research landscape, including the increasing focus on challenge-oriented research funding, and aim to support Scottish research competitiveness at the national level.

There are incredible opportunities for Scottish university research to galvanise behind the opportunities presented by this new approach.