Collaborating to succeed; SICSA and the Scottish Research Pools

by Dr Stuart Fancey, Director of Research and Innovation at the Scottish Funding Council

Scottish Research Pools are one of our universities great success stories. Not only do they demonstrate the value of collaboration in academic research, they prove how well we can cooperate within our small, well-connected and inventive country.

A recent blog from our colleagues at SICSA (the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance) describes the impact of its work. According to its Executive Officer, Steven Kendrick, it’s “all about building communities, developing research expertise and ensuring that the experience of the PhD community in Scotland is second-to-none”. These are exactly the kind of benefits the Scottish Funding Council and Scotland’s universities hoped could be achieved back in 2004 when they began the £450million programme to set up the 11 research pools.

We also hoped that the research pools would accelerate discovery, attract research talent and increase levels of international competitiveness. There is now good evidence that they are doing all three. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) results show that the proportion of top-rated research improved significantly in academic disciplines supported through the pooling initiative.

Accomplishments such as SICSA’s Education Group and Graduate Academy are further testament to the impact the research pooling initiative is continuing to have. Since 2011 SFC has also been investing an additional £500,000 a year to help research pools compete for European funding and to support postgraduate and early career researcher exchanges with Europe, North America, China and India.

Elsewhere, initiatives such as the annual SICSA PhD conference which brings together young research talent from across Scotland to share knowledge and promote the benefits of collaboration are now seen as an essential element in academic success.

Looking to the future, research pooling makes Scotland exceptionally well equipped to meet the challenges – and to reap the benefits – of cross-disciplinary research. Connecting together research pools in different disciplines is creating a melting pot from which new advancements are beginning to emerge. Equally exciting is the prospect of connecting research pools with the new SFC-funded Scottish innovation Centres. There are already interesting things happening here. I know, for example, that SICSA is having productive engagements with The Data Lab Innovation Centre.

I feel exceptionally proud when SFC is sought out by delegations from other countries wanting to find out how we’re managing to achieve such quality of collaboration. We’ve had high-level visits from both China and Pakistan in the last two months alone. As competition increases and as public and charitable funding is ever-harder to obtain, research pooling is one the reasons I believe that 2017 and the years beyond will continue to be good ones for Scottish university research.

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