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Putting Universities and Colleges at the Heart of Economic Growth

SFC Chair Mike Cantlay on Enterprise & Skills in Scotland.

The publication of the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board’s Strategic Plan – Working Collaboratively for a Better Scotland – provides a fantastic opportunity for colleges and universities to consolidate their position at the heart of Scotland’s economic future.

The Plan’s actions for the enterprise and skills agencies aim to generate a step change in productivity and drive inclusive economic growth.  It’s important that the college and university sectors seize the opportunity to show the value of their contribution to achieving these aims.

With a particular focus on skills, the role of Scotland’s colleges and universities is already recognised as being important. However, it is also recognised that the world of work is changing rapidly. Our universities and colleges must therefore show that they have the flexibility to respond to the challenges presented by demographic and technological change, demonstrating that they can provide a balance between pre-work and in-work learning; engaging with employers; providing lifelong learning opportunities; and driving the discussion on the ‘meta skills’ required to thrive in the future economy.

Putting Universities and Colleges at the Heart of Economic GrowthThe reach of the college and university sectors does not, however, stop at skills. There are ample opportunities for the sectors to demonstrate the value they can add and to drive the agenda.

Already our universities and colleges are fostering collaboration with businesses and building Scotland’s innovative future: supported with investment of more than £100 million from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), eight Innovation Centres are connecting academia with businesses while Interface, also funded by the SFC, connects a wide variety of national and international industries to all of Scotland’s universities, research institutes and colleges. Our colleges and universities are well placed, therefore, to rise to the challenge set out in the Plan to work with businesses to accelerate growth.

Similarly, the global impact of our universities and colleges cannot be underestimated. Through the recruitment of international students and attraction of international research funds, our universities and colleges have an important export function. Over 50,000 international students already live and learn in Scotland and there are currently 7,500 overseas staff working in Scottish universities. Our universities are a global force in medical and life science research and have a growing reputation in computer game design and big data; while our colleges lead the world in nautical studies and training for the energy industry.

Building from this already very strong base, our colleges and universities will be more than ready to play a central role to grow the current level of exports to the EU; to transform Scotland’s perception in priority markets; and, importantly, encourage a global mind-set, positioning Scotland as a progressive country with positive attitudes to migration and significantly increasing the number of Scottish students who gain international experience.

Working in partnership with our colleagues across the university and college sectors in Scotland, the SFC looks forward to delivering the actions and recommendations set out in the Strategic Plan and ensuring Scotland’s further and higher education sectors remain at the heart of its economic future.

Mike Cantlay, SFC Chair - 17 Oct 2018