Written evidence submitted by University of Glasgow (USC0003)


Scottish Affairs Committee Inquiry: Universities and Scotland

Scotland benefits from a world-leading higher education ecosystem and our universities are both a national asset – catalysts of innovation, social mobility and inclusive growth – and an international pole of attraction, central to Scotland’s global reputation.

The impact of Scottish universities on society and the economy has been particularly strong during the pandemic. Our own institution, the University of Glasgow, has played a significant role in the fight against COVID-19 from hosting Scotland’s only Lighthouse Lab to our MRC Centre for Virus Research experts analysing the genetic code of the virus, and leading new clinical trials. Researchers and departments from across the University are participating in coronavirus-related research from diagnostics and participating in the Oxford vaccine trial to research on the impact of lockdown on mental health and chronic health issues. Moreover, hundreds of our staff and students have volunteered their time, skills and expertise to the NHS and to the local Glasgow community during the pandemic: delivering food packages, working on the frontline and running free online classes and sessions to support vulnerable and shielded members of the community. Our universities have also worked quickly and carefully to ensure our students continue to receive a world-class educational experience, albeit differently and through a model of blended learning. Staff from across our institution and across the sector more generally, have worked tirelessly to ensure uninterrupted provision of learning, teaching and support for our students.

The rapid and creative response demonstrated by Scotland’s HE sector in the face of the pandemic illustrates how universities are key to addressing the various strategic challenges we as a country face, whether through equipping young people with the skills they require to thrive in a changing economy, reinforcing Scotland’s post-Brexit resilience, or supporting the national recovery as we emerge from the pandemic.

The impact of universities on society and the economy has been keenly felt during the pandemic. However, universities have always- and will always- make a significant contribution to society and the economy. In modern economic theory, it is well established that two key drivers of economic growth, through their impact on productivity growth, are skills development and R&D. Higher Education sits at the heart of both these processes, which is why it is so important for the sector’s perspective to be central to any discussions surrounding policy and funding at both UK level and devolved nation level.

COVID-19 is an inflection point and one which will have a material and strategic impact on the sector. Scotland benefits hugely from having a small number of institutions ranked within the world’s top 200. It drives innovation, pulls in talent and ensures that we remain competitive in relation to our peers, whether across the UK or elsewhere. To safeguard the stability of the sector, and further cultivate this ecosystem, now is the time for a bold, imaginative and wide-ranging conversation about the contribution we can make to the country as whole. Simply put, in a challenging environment where resource is likely to be constrained, HE cannot afford to stand still. The University, therefore, welcomes this opportunity to participate in this inquiry and contribute to the important discussions surrounding funding and the impact of UK policy on Scottish universities.

This submission consists of a collection of recommendations from relevant experts across the University of Glasgow. This response will focus on the following key issues set out in the Terms of Reference:


1. The scale and nature of challenges and opportunities around funding for Scottish universities including funding models, deficits, overseas and EU students’ fees



International students


R&D Funding



Build Back Better

Increased Collaboration

Recognition of Differentiation


2. How Scottish university research fits in with UK university research


Scotland's universities have a global reputation for excellent research as evidenced through previous REF exercises and the percentage of funding won from UK research funders compared to the relative size of the research base.


At the University of Glasgow, we are leading the UK in fields such as Precision Medicine, quantum technology and nanofabrication- whilst Scotland in general is highly competitive in areas such as the life sciences and biomedical sciences sector, renewable technologies and as outlined in the Scottish Government’s Logan Review, digital and green technologies.


Funding for university research in Scotland is delivered via a dual support mechanism comprising a block grant given by the SFC alongside competitively awarded grants from UK-wide research councils. UKRI has a dual role covering both devolved responsibilities through Research England, and also acts as a UK-wide agency through the research councils and Innovate UK. As a result, although research councils cover the entirety of the UK, Research England only focuses on English institutions and there is a tendency to slip from a focus on the whole of the UK to a focus on just England. One potential solution to this would be to appoint a UKRI lead for each devolved nation as mentioned previously so that UKRI will have a firmer grasp on the research potential across the whole of the UK. Research England leads REF collaboration from the UK’s four nations effectively and illustrates that it is possible to have truly UK-wide collaboration and representation led by a body like Research England.


Furthermore, there is a differentiation in how research funding is distributed to Scottish universities compared to UK universities. In England, Quality-related (QR) funding is distributed to institutions as a block grant dependent on the quality profile from the REF, whilst in Scotland the equivalent is known as a Research Excellence Grant (REG). Therefore, when the UK Government announces an increase in QR funding for UK universities, this may not translate to Scottish universities at all, unless the additional investment triggers a consequential through the Barnett formula, and this is passed on to the SFC for distribution through REG. Moreover, there is also differentiation when it comes to Knowledge Exchange (KE) funding in the UK. KE activity is designed to incentivise universities to produce research which helps society but the infrastructure in place to provide this incentivisation is different across the UK. In Scotland, KE funding is available through the SFC’s University Innovation Fund (UIF) to incentivise knowledge exchange research through alignment with the Scottish Government’s objectives and is a significantly smaller pot of money than the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) available in England. HEIF provides a pot of around £213M for KE initiatives in English universities and institutions are incentivised to align KE research with the UK Government’s strategic objectives. Thus, there is a disconnect in the translation of funding from the UK Government to devolved institutions and in KE incentivisation for universities cross the UK. Harmonisation of processes and devolved nation representation in the decision-making process surrounding policy and funding would perhaps solve this current disconnect in follow through from policy to action/funding.


Moreover, as previously discussed, there is often a tendency by UK-wide funding bodies to focus on one particular geographical area of the UK at the expense of areas like Scotland. As a result, excellent research potential in Scotland and elsewhere may be overlooked. It should be noted, however, that SFC representatives have made progress in ensuring devolved administrations are recognised, but more should be done to ensure the UK Government and UKRI are aware of world-class R&D opportunities in Scotland. For example, representation on the Ministerial Taskforce from devolved nations has allowed for recognition of excellence in Scottish universities at the same time as their English counterparts, when perhaps in the past the focus has been primarily on R&D in England. UKRI should assess how its representation is distributed across the UK. Currently UKRI is based only in Bristol and Swindon and perhaps the model utilised by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) could be replicated, whereby regional offices are created across the UK. Additionally, there is the possibility of secondment opportunities at UKRI level to universities across the UK and vice versa for academics to be seconded to UKRI- as discussed previously in this submission. It is also important that the UKRI Board can draw on the talent of all the four UK nations.

3. UK Government policy and how it effects universities, students, employees and research in Scotland.

Policy Disconnect




Brexit & Immigration

October 2020