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by Stuart Fancey, Director
07 October 2021
Associate Feature: Collaboration is key to future success

Associate Feature: Collaboration is key to future success

It is in the nature of education to be preparing for the future, and it is in the nature of research to be curious about that future and to reveal knowledge to help us navigate it. Scotland’s globally renowned Life Sciences sector is combining research and the education of skilled people to both improve healthcare and create jobs in Scotland. I am going to briefly reflect on the context and future prospects for what is, already, a Scottish success story.

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) is the national strategic body that annually invests £1.9 billion in tertiary education, research and knowledge exchange. The universities and colleges we fund are navigating a continuing global pandemic, a changing global market and the effects of the UK leaving the EU. For the students, staff and leaders in our universities and colleges these are challenging and uncertain times as they respond to the impacts they have already felt. To the effects of Covid-19 and Brexit we can add the over-arching global challenge of our lifetimes, the climate emergency. It is in this context that SFC is framing its own part in continuing and developing the excellence of Scotland’s research, teaching and innovation.

The Scottish Government asked us to conduct a review of our support for universities and colleges in Scotland. Our reflections, and suggested directions of travel, were published at the end of June and it’s good to have the opportunity to share some of those areas of the report which consider research and innovation.

At its core, our review recommends continued investment in excellent research for all our futures and it suggests ways we might, in partnership with Scottish and UK stakeholders, support the response of that research to the needs of our nation and the world.

In carrying out the review we engaged with people from many areas of academic and national life in Scotland, and reflected on the results of complementary studies. We drew on the 2019 report by Anton Muscatelli in recommending we harness research to address big societal challenges through a mission-based approach. Bringing together researchers with partners in industry, the NHS and elsewhere to take on multi-disciplinary challenges needs organisation, investment and leadership but is, we suggest, a key part of our future.

Life Sciences provide an excellent example of how SFC and the Scottish Government have already adopted such a mission-style approach. The Cancer Innovation Challenge, a £1m initiative, was designed to encourage collaboration between Scottish Innovation Centres, medical professionals and cutting-edge healthcare businesses to help Scotland become a world leader in cancer care through the use of data to guide and manage treatment. The outputs of the partnerships created by the innovation challenge are now entering both clinical and commercial realisation.

Significantly, collaboration was at the centre of discussions at a recent research workshop to design solutions to Scotland’s future health needs. Delegates focussed on how working together could help overcome both immediate and long-term challenges.

What the delegates had to say about collaboration was informed by experiences and insights gained during the pandemic. They wanted the future to be based on transdisciplinary partnerships – beyond the interdisciplinary approaches of the past to one where disciplines combine to form a new force for discovery. And, they wanted these partnerships to include data scientists, social scientists, health economists and NHS procurement teams as well as biologists, clinicians and the pharmaceutical industry.

That creative thinking chimes with the SFC review. Bringing together a wider range of talents to answer the healthcare challenges we face is surely a big part of how Scotland continues its Life Sciences success story.

This article is sponsored by the Scottish Funding Council.

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