Scotland at the Heart of Meeting Global Challenges
Dr Cat Ball, Assistant Director of Research and Innovation, talks about SFC’s role in supporting Scottish university research to address national and international challenges.
Our ambition at the Scottish Funding Council is simple; it’s to make Scotland an outstanding place to learn, educate, research and innovate.
To do this we allocate Scottish Government funding to colleges and universities. They invest it in learning, skills, research and innovation and we then assess the impact on national priorities. This oversight means we can understand and promote synergies, like the value that comes from research-informed teaching.
In research, we provide long-term funding, based on performance, which enables universities to do crucial things like invest in research talent; leverage research project funding and infrastructure investment; and dive into exciting, new research areas that might one day deliver a breakthrough or change the way we live. Think the Covid vaccine – and more!
The latest UK wide assessment of research excellence (the REF) showed once more that there is
world-leading research in every Scottish institution. As you know, research breakthroughs do not happen overnight and SFC’s sustained investment is a big part of that national success story. Its continuity is the base from which researchers can launch bids for specific project funding.
This combination of funding is what drives forward discovery in Scotland, by supporting universities to:
- Explore a huge range of research topics and focuses, including early-stage curiosity-driven research where you don’t know the outcome but you might hit the jackpot.
- Undertake mission-driven research and address the great issues of our time.
- Do the most applied of research to address a particular need of government or business.
Within this huge range, around a third of Scottish research is directly related to the ambitions set out in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals - and almost a third is directly related to the goals in the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework.
Drilling further down, almost half of the SDG work focusses around SDG 3 ‘improved understanding of good health and wellbeing’. However, Scotland’s contribution is highly regarded across the full spectrum, most notably also in the areas of food poverty, climate change, gender equality and clean water and sanitation.
Last year, SFC published a report which set out some of this data and included a range of case studies from across the breadth of Scottish university research.
In our report we highlighted how Scottish university research was:
- Shaping the national development and local delivery of child poverty policy at Glasgow Caledonian University.
- Informing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports on global climate change at the University of Edinburgh.
- Helping us understand what holds back female entrepreneurs at the University of Dundee.
- Developing new ways to manufacture medicines at the University of Strathclyde.
- Helping policing to be more effective at Edinburgh Napier University.
Finally, SFC also plays a role in supporting research collaboration.
We’ve done this at a disciplinary level with great success through research pools which are now
self-sustaining and continuing to play an important role. We’re now focusing funding on multidisciplinary challenge collaboration and supporting new Alliances for Research Challenges.
We hope these will catalyse and galvanise new research connections directed at national and international challenges.
There’s a huge amount to celebrate in Scotland’s university research base - and I am confident our success story will continue well into the future.
Dr Cat Ball, Assistant Director, Research & Innovation, SFC - 9 Feb 2023