Opportunities from the Industrial Strategy

Ruth Meyer is a Senior Policy Officer covering Research, Health and Knowledge Exchange here at Universities Scotland. After digesting the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy paper, Ruth blogs about the opportunities that exist for Scotland.

The UK Government’s white paper on the Industrial Strategy was published last month and there are loads of reasons to be cheerful. The Strategy recognises a lot of the good that universities can do, and are doing, in terms of economic impact – and UK Government is making investments to support the role HEIs play in economic growth.

Making sure the Industrial Strategy works in Scotland is going to be a really important contributor to achieving Scottish Government’s priorities around inclusive economic growth.

We need to ensure the drive for alignment across local and national priorities in the Scottish Government’s Enterprise and Skills Review is pointing at maximising the opportunities of the Industrial Strategy. Equally we need to see UK Government taking into account the differences between UK-wide and devolved structures. UK Government have offered to do this through ministerial forums to support working with devolved nations on some critical aspects of the strategy (Grand Challenges, Sector Deals, collaboration across institutions, place) so we need to take them up on this and go from there.

UK Government is investing across English universities to support research and innovation, as well as at the UK level. In Scotland we do really well in the competitive UK-wide research system. UK research operates in a dual-support system – part of which Scottish Government is responsible for.

To keep doing as incredibly well as Scotland does we need Scottish Government to make sure the consequential funding from increases for English HEIs for research and innovation come to Scottish HEIs to enable them to leverage in more investment in research and innovation in Scotland from UK, business and international sources.

We know investing in R&D is critical to improving productivity so we welcome the commitment to get to 2.4% of UK GDP invested in R&D by 2027, it’s a step in the right direction. In Scotland we have just seen business investment in R&D (BERD) just go over £1Bn in 2016 which is great news but we’re still in the bottom quartile of OECD countries for BERD. When you look at the four Grand Challenge areas – AI and the data economy; clean growth; healthy ageing; and the future of mobility – we know we’ve got research strength in these areas which we can utilise to work with businesses to solve major challenges; helping more businesses to innovate and be more productive. Across government and agencies business demand for innovation and working with universities needs to be stimulated to make the most of the Scotland’s world-leading research.

Universities are hugely important in terms of local growth – they’re anchor institutions that are connected into the local community and bring in people and investment. The white paper recognises this through the importance of universities and colleges in developing local industrial strategies in England. We don’t have the same structures in Scotland but the Enterprise and Skills Review has a focus on regional partnerships and bespoke arrangements for regions. We also have hugely promising work to enhance local economic growth through City Region Deals and some interesting work through Science and Innovation Audits in identifying local research and innovation strengths. If pointed at interventions like the Shared Prosperity Fund or the £115M Strength in Places Fund, all the pieces are there to ensure that communities across Scotland benefit from the UK Industrial Strategy.

This really just scratches the surface of all the components of the UK Industrial Strategy. We’re not unique in some of the challenges we face but it does get a bit complicated with a mix of reserved and devolved policies. Most importantly it is a big chance for Scottish HEIs to contribute more to the Scottish economy, if they’re backed to do so.