‘Nordic’ innovation vision for Scotland backs university mergers

Scotland 2070 authors call for doubling of research spend and for institutional mergers, to boost global clout and innovation focus

四月 23, 2021
man looking at ice sculpture of two stags with horns together as a metaphor for ‘Nordic’ innovation vision for Scotland backs university mergers.
Source: Getty

Scotland could fund a doubling of research investment in universities by cutting defence spending, helping it become a Nordic-style innovation nation, while “consolidating” its universities into single citywide or regional institutions to compete globally, according to a new book.

Ahead of Scottish Parliament elections on 6 May, Scotland 2070: Healthy, Wealthy, Wise bills itself as an attempt to step beyond politics and look at Scotland’s economic future – as an independent nation or part of a federal UK – seeing universities and research as having a central role.

Research funding is allocated UK-wide by the Westminster government, meaning an independent Scotland would need to find funds and a new strategy on research.

Scotland has “vibrant” universities, but the nation “needs a radical rethink of many of its institutions – and this [universities and research] is one where we think before you pour new money into it, you have to have a major rethink”, said co-author Ian Godden, who started his career at BP, founded and sold consulting and healthcare businesses, and now advises Middle Eastern governments on oil, gas and defence.

Scotland can “avoid the trap of competing with Ireland” with its “low corporate tax, low R&D spend”, and instead “double our funds for R&D in Scottish universities, research centres, and innovative companies; and triple the development investment in Scotland’s potential strengths”, says the book, whose other authors are Hillary Sillito, a visiting professor of design, manufacturing and engineering management at the University of Strathclyde, and former nurse Dorothy Godden. Scotland should look not to England, Germany or Silicon Valley as its model but to “wealthier and happier, similar-sized Nordic countries”, it adds.

The book outlines six areas where Scotland could focus its economy and efforts: the Arctic as an emerging economic region and location for new trade routes as sea ice melts; wood technology as a replacement for materials such as steel; renewable energy; marine issues as a “new frontier for food and technology”; medicine; and artificial intelligence.

Doubling university research spending would be needed “if we are to be involved in the future development of these industries”, said Mr Godden.

“A small country has to decide to focus” and while universities often aim for “breadth”, a “steering from national policy towards certain sectors” would be needed, he argued.

That could lead to “a consolidation” of universities “which is one of our themes”, said Mr Godden. “It’s not a popular theme,” he added.

He highlighted Edinburgh, a city of about 500,000 people that has three universities thanks to “history and vested interests”.

Even the University of Edinburgh was “not big enough, not substantial enough”, and consolidation would help Scottish universities compete for students, academics and funding “at world scale”, Mr Godden said.

Having a single unified Scottish university “would not be out of scale with the rest of the world”, but that was probably not “realistic”, he continued. However, the creation of a north of Scotland university and a “consolidation of the central belt” institutions on the basis of the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh would be a positive step, he argued.

The book puts the price tag for its research investment proposals at £3 billion a year. One option to fund that would be by cutting defence spending to as low as 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product, moving Scotland “away from the UK’s delusion of being a global superpower”, it says.




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