Dr Siobhan Jordan smiles directly at camera

By Dr Siobhán Jordan, Director, Interface

Over the last few months, we have all learnt to expect the unexpected. Whilst planning is possible, the ability to flex and adapt is critical.  In the opening remarks to the recently published review of Tertiary Education and Research by Scottish Funding Council, who invest public money to enable Scotland’s colleges and universities to provide life-changing opportunities for over half a million people, its Chair Dr. Mike Cantlay notes:

We are all operating within a context of unparalleled uncertainty”. 

Despite the unprecedented times, the review from Scottish Funding Council (SFC) charts a course of bold ambition for the future of research and innovation in Scotland.  The recommendations, spanning teaching, research and knowledge exchange, will touch every citizen in Scotland including current and future students, parents, employers, businesses, and policy makers to name a few. 

The global reputation of knowledge and research within Scotland’s universities and further education colleges is exemplary.  Researchers across Scotland’s institutions have delivered outstanding contributions to the medical, social and economic crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, from supporting testing and vaccine production to enabling businesses to reach new customers through adopting ground-breaking digital technologies.

SFC’s commitment to funding research and innovation in a world of challenges and uncertainties is to be applauded. Blue skies discovery research can lead to revolutionary disruptive thinking.  The theory of quantum mechanics is a fundamental part of modern physics and research undertaken over many years is now being exploited commercially by the QuantIC consortium to make sensors and imaging technologies faster and smaller.  Scottish researchers are everyday pushing the boundaries of what we already know about how the world works. The SFC’s recommendation to develop mission-orientated research and knowledge exchange at a national level to tackle long-term challenges, particularly the climate emergency will catalyse even greater cross-sector working and collaboration. 

All colleges and universities are committed to supporting knowledge exchange leading to productive partnerships that are delivering local economic impacts across all parts of Scotland and more importantly enhancing skills, creating jobs and addressing global challenges such as health and wellbeing and the goal for zero emissions. Many small and medium sized businesses have established productive partnerships with academic teams through the impartial matchmaker Interface, unlocking knowledge, talent and specialist facilities to accelerate new or improved products, processes and services.  For example, Scotmas Group Ltd partnered with Robert Gordon University (RGU), through support from Interface, resulting in development of a new, innovative water disinfection method without harmful by-products, for use in drinking water, hospitals and food production worldwide. The project won the ‘Innovation of the Year’ award at the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2021. The first of several units built using the technology recently left the company’s Kelso base en route to a major water utility company in the Middle East, representing the start of a multi-million-dollar sales pipeline for the company and the creation of new highly skilled jobs. 

My passion is that that education, skills and career development are open and accessible to all. The SFC’s recommendations commit to further enhancing and deepening knowledge exchange between colleges, universities and end users – from businesses to social innovators.  And in an ever-changing world the commitment to learning and enhancing knowledge for life by finding better ways to enable people to reskill and upskill, as the labour market and the future world of work shifts, is very welcome.

The review does not provide all the answers but challenges our thinking and sets out bold actions and pragmatic choices as we navigate the next few years. The collective recommendations will support the best of the best for students, colleges, universities, businesses and their employees.  To enable this high performance will require co-operation and collaboration in new ways – to boldly travel together in the delivery of the shared ambition.