Scots join forces to compete globally

January 16, 2004

Centres of scientific excellence could be created in Scotland drawing on talent from universities, research institutes, government agencies and the National Health Service.

The Scottish Science Advisory Committee, an independent body that was established through the Royal Society of Edinburgh with funding from the Scottish Executive, wants to see an expansion of collaboration to generate innovative Scotland-wide partnerships that will compete with the best in the world.

Science funded by the research councils and the three main Scottish Executive departments - enterprise and lifelong learning, environment and rural affairs, and health - should be brought into a better integrated framework, its report urges.

It says that money is needed "to encourage more sectors of the science base to work together with greater ambition and coordination".

There are fears that Scotland risks losing researchers in the wake of improved funding south of the border, and universities are already contemplating pooling resources in physics, economics, life sciences and the creative arts to create collaborative centres for advanced research.

But the SSAC report, Science matters: Making the right connections for Scotland, wants to see this going further, with "collective alliances" bringing together scientists from different sectors.

"Given the manageable scale and the convenient geography of most of the organisations within its science base, Scotland should be seeking to gain even greater collective advantage to further strengthen its science base," the report says.

"It is unlikely that any of the English regions outside London would have the comparable breadth and depth of intellectual strength that exists across the science base in Scotland," it continues.

The SSAC says in the report that the Scottish Executive should work with bodies suchas the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, higher education institutions, government-funded research institutes and the Scottish Enterprise Network "to support exceptional cases for the recruitment, career development, retention and resourcing of outstanding talent".

Wilson Sibbett, SSAC chair and professor of physics at St Andrews University, said the report challenges the Scottish Executive to avoid insularity between different government departments.

Professor Sibbett said: "It is my view that progress in many of the most challenging areas of modern science will require suitable integrated efforts that combine multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary skills.

"Additionally, it is vitally important that we have the breadth and depth of resources to maintain the necessary degree of agility in our planning, to take advantage of unexpected opportunities that may reveal themselves," he added.

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