£120m boost for research

March 9, 2001

Scottish higher education has won £120 million in a series of funding boosts for research and commercialisation.

Scotland's share of the Science Research Infrastructure Fund is £45 million, but the Scottish Executive has doubled this to £90 million. Alongside this, enterprise and lifelong learning minister Wendy Alexander has announced Pounds 12 million for Scottish Enterprise to develop transatlantic higher education partnerships and an extra £18 million to the "proof of concept" fund to bridge the gap between scientific discovery and commercial viability.

Ms Alexander announced the £90 million Scottish science research investment fund package on a visit to Heriot-Watt University, where she saw the Micro Systems Engineering Centre. It aims to provide a design and test facility for academic and industrial research, offering rapid prototyping for small and medium-sized businesses.

One of its projects is a tiny motor that can power surgical devices working inside the human body, leading to less invasive surgery. The rotating scalpel could cut fat deposits inside clogged arteries, the main cause of strokes and heart attacks.

Heriot-Watt is set to win more than £4 million from the research investment fund over the next three years, although institutions will have to find 25 per cent of project investment from their own resources or third parties.

Ms Alexander, who recently returned from a five-day visit to universities and innovative companies in the United States, said: "The really innovative feature of the Scottish science research investment fund is that it allows universities a great deal of freedom to follow their own investment strategies.

"The top universities that I visited in America knew of the great research we had locked up in our universities, but they urged us to improve our ability to get those ideas out of labs and into our industries."

During her visit to the US, Ms Alexander helped cement links between Strathclyde University and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and was also involved in talks with Stanford University. She said the £12 million for Scottish Enterprise would support the creation of a new breed of Scottish institutes that would generate economic and business benefits for Scotland.

"We have pockets of world-beating expertise in, for example, biotechnology and optoelectronics. We must look at how we build transatlantic bridges in these areas," she said.

Tariq Durrani, Strathclyde's deputy principal, said Carnegie Mellon had complementary strengths to the "e-institute" developed by Strathclyde and Glasgow universities. "Links within Scotland are beneficial, but this gives us an opportunity to understand how the Americans approach commercialisation and technology transfer," he said.

The £18 million boost for the proof of concept fund aims to transform cutting-edge research into tomorrow's products. First round award winners include a Dundee University team that is investigating the role of three molecules that help scar-free healing after injuries.

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