Scottish Enterprise looks to improve university–industry collaboration

Julia Brown: looking for change. Picture: Complimentary
Julia Brown: looking for change. Picture: Complimentary
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THE new head of Scottish Enterprise’s life sciences unit wants to forge closer links with industry after a report showed Scotland is lagging behind its international competitors when it comes to collaborations between domestic businesses and universities.

In her first interview since taking up the post in July, 
Julia Brown said the economic development agency had commissioned the report from publishing giant Elsevier to measure the performance of Scotland’s research base in the life and chemical sciences.

The study, which will be published tomorrow, revealed that Scotland was ahead of countries including Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland when it came to collaborations between its universities and foreign companies.

But the nation lagged behind its competitors in forming alliances between home-grown firms and academics.

Brown said she will work with industry bodies such as Chemical Sciences Scotland and the Scottish Lifesciences Association to improve links between firms and researchers. She noted that other public bodies – such as Interface and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) – would also be involved in discussions.

The report measured the number of times that Scottish research is cited by other academics and also its impact.

Brown said: “We have shown the citation and impact rates are higher through collaborations with industry and that will help to drive a culture change in our academic base.

“The report shows there are fewer collaborations between Scottish companies and our academic base. The innovation centres will help to encourage more Scottish-to-Scottish collaborations.”

Last year the SFC, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise unveiled plans to open innovation centres at universities to help businesses and academics develop products and services.

In April, the first three sites – two in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh – received £30 million in funding. The stratified medicine centre at Glasgow’s Southern General hospital will look at personalised treatments for diseases including cancer, diabetes and stroke based on individual patients’ genes, while Glasgow will also host a sensor and imaging centre and Edinburgh will run a digital health and care site.

Brown said the report would also help to attract inward investment to Scotland by both drawing in foreign companies to set up bases and also bringing in overseas funding for businesses and projects.

Scotland was ranked second in the world for the number of publications per researcher, beaten only by Switzerland, and was ranked third behind Switzerland and the Netherlands for the number of citations per researcher.

Brown said that the number demonstrated Scotland was continuing to “punch above our weight in terms of both research and researchers”, with the life sciences industry contributing £3.1 billion a year to the economy and the chemical sciences sector giving £9.3bn.