Research and innovation at risk with cuts to funding

University leaders are warning that Scotland’s hard won reputation for research and innovation is at risk.

The Scottish Funding Council has issued its funding allocations for universities for the next academic year 2022/23 including the Research Excellence Grant. The Research Excellence Grant supports top-quality research with the aim to keep Scotland globally competitive and attractive to researchers.

Eight of Scotland’s universities are facing cuts to their grant, with four high-performing research universities seeing cuts of greater than £1 million from August. The allocations come just a fortnight after Scotland’s universities shone in the UK-wide research assessment, the Research Excellence Framework. 85% of Scotland’s research was judged to be in the two highest categories of performance, rated as world-leading or internationally excellent.

Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland reacting to the Research Excellence Grant allocation said:

“Spectacular levels of research excellence are being rewarded with cuts. This is a lost opportunity, which the Scottish Government need urgently to address.

“Investment in research and development has been proven to deliver economic prosperity, high-quality jobs and support for businesses; all recently highlighted as priorities for the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation.

“Two weeks ago universities were rightly being hailed by the Scottish Government for our contribution to Scotland being a world-leading research nation. Now we have a scenario where some universities which have improved their performance are seeing cuts to their research funding.

“Universities Scotland has alerted the Scottish Government to the university sector’s concerns that today’s allocations don’t do enough to sustain excellent research across Scotland’s universities. We look forward to urgent action by Scottish Government to address these concerns.”

The Scottish Funding Council has capped losses at 10% for any single university for 2022/23, with the expectation of further cuts for 2023/24. Figures calculated by Universities Scotland suggest that an extra £6.15 million would ensure no institution is worse off in cash terms for 2022/23 than they currently are.

Evidence from London Economics, cited in Universities Scotland’s publication ‘Prosperity and Inclusion: Higher Education and the Wellbeing Economy’, demonstrates that every £1m of Scottish Government investment in university research generates £8m of economic growth.

The Research Excellence Grant supports the staff and facilities that enable universities to compete for research project funding, levering resources into Scotland from the UK Research Councils, industry, research charities such as Cancer Research, and international sources.

Today’s cuts come on top of successive real-terms cuts in Research Excellence Grant of 18.2% since 2014/15. These cuts correlate with reduced Scottish success in competing for UK resources: Scottish universities on 15.4% of UK Research Councils funding in 2014/15: this has declined steadily to 12.9% in the latest available figures.