Written evidence submitted by Heriot-Watt University (USC0009)


Heriot-Watt University Submission - Scottish Affairs Committee Inquiry: Universities and Scotland



Since Heriot-Watt University’s foundation in 1821, we have been outward looking pioneers of education, in pursuit of knowledge to the benefit of society and the world. We offer a distinctive learning experience, enhanced by our global connectivity, and grounded in the needs of a rapidly changing world. Heriot-Watt University is one of the leading Universities in Scotland and the UK for business and industry, with a reputation for innovative education, enterprise and leading-edge, applied research. We pride ourselves on being first in Scotland and ninth in the UK for real world research impact according to the Research Excellence Framework and, through a diverse group of world-leading specialists, we remain focussed on contributing to the key issues facing modern society. 

University Funding

Across the sector we have seen the adverse impact of the coronavirus pandemic, giving rise to severe operational, financial, and strategic challenges. At Heriot-Watt University, we have acted quickly and worked closely with our Court to address these challenges, review and re-affirm our strategic priorities, and plan the necessary actions to ensure a sustainable and resilient future.

Heriot-Watt University has a diversified income base with relatively low dependence on government funding. One third of our students come from Scotland and EU yet these only provide 20% of our total income. 77% of the income derived from tuition fee and education contracts comes from and international students and those from the rest of the UK. From the regulatory returns made by Higher Educational Institutes, the surplus earned from international fee income cross-subsidises the activities to teach home students and our world leading research activity.

It is still early in the enrolment cycle, but it is encouraging to see that our student numbers and related income are better than anticipated, whilst remaining lower than the assumed pre-Covid levels for International and Rest of UK undergraduate and postgraduate fee income. Accommodation income is marginally above our assumed budgeted levels which had been reduced to reflect the lower expected student numbers.

We welcome the Scottish Funding Council’s £75m in support for university research in Scotland, of which we will receive £4.05m.  This is in addition to support to the Higher Education sector with £5 million of funding to tackle students from digital exclusion, £10m for estates development of which Heriot Watt has been allocated £144K, and early access to £11.4m of Higher Education Hardship Funds. Unfortunately, despite this support, the levels of uncertainty and ongoing risk has necessitated that the University initiates a programme of change to deliver significant savings.

University Research

The University’s Strategy 2025 places our students and staff at the heart of everything we do, and our priorities reflect our commitment to the University’s role in education and skills, economic growth, and research and innovation. However, given the significant impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our society, it is now more important than ever that the University maximises the potential of its research and the development of innovative new technologies to deliver a thriving, robust economy that is fit for the future. 

Our research and entrepreneurial approach place us at the forefront of academic endeavour that aims to make an outstanding impact on society. We aim to address crucial world issues through our interdisciplinary approach and close collaboration with industry and business. The majority of our research funding is gained through external competition at national level and Heriot-Watt continues to be successful in this, especially given our research specialisations in fields such as robotics, AI, quantum technology, sustainability, mathematics, geo and marine sciences.

The University has recently received UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding to deliver various impactful and innovative projects. Some examples of ongoing projects and their objectives are provided below:

UK Government Policy

Heriot-Watt University welcomes the UK Government’s decision to reintroduce post-study work visas for international students. The scheme will ensure that Scotland remains a sought-after study destination for international students and ensure that we can remain competitive with other English-speaking countries such as the USA, Canada, and Australia.

Around one third of our on-campus students currently studying in Scotland are from outside the UK, making the Heriot-Watt University one of the most internationally diverse in the UK. This helped us to be named as the Times and Sunday Times “International University of the Year” in 2018.  This global outlook has been further bolstered by the University's overseas campuses in Dubai and Malaysia that promote Scotland's excellence in education around the world.

Scotland benefits educationally, socially, culturally and economically from our talented pool of international students and this change in policy will allow these students to continue to contribute to Scottish society in the years following their graduation. We know this decision has proven popular with our industrial partners as international graduates can play a key role in addressing workforce shortages and skills gaps.

More broadly, we remain determined to contribute to the UK’s economic renewal following the significant impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on our society and the economy. Our recently published Recovery Prospectus[1] details several areas where Heriot-Watt University can support the delivery of the UK Government’s long-term policy objectives by maximising opportunities for innovation, solving significant issues and driving impactful socioeconomic benefits.

We will contribute to the UK Government’s ambitious Net-Zero targets by creating a Global Research Institute to build on our existing expertise in green technologies. The University has already helped drive 30 high impact Net-Zero projects since 2018, from areas as diverse as the deployment of large-scale Smart Energy Systems to the creation of sustainable synthetic fuels. Heriot-Watt will also catalyse opportunities through our leading role in industrial decarbonisation and support innovation related to the UK Government’s Clean Growth Strategy.

Our priorities also remain closely aligned with the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy and its ambitions to boost productivity and create jobs through investment in the skills, industries and infrastructure of the future. We have committed to working with government to ensure that Scotland remains the leading UK location outside of London for foreign direct investment.

To achieve this, we will grow a dynamic and inclusive global ecosystem, focused on advanced R&D, talent development, commercialisation and start-up activity. By harnessing the combined intellectual, physical and financial capital from the University and its partner organisations we believe we can grow an economically vibrant and socially inclusive, global innovation ecosystem and develop a repeatable model that we will embed within all our locations. Collectively, this will offer unique opportunities for global economic growth and international trade and help to ensure that the Scotland and the UK remains a leading destination for business activity.

October 2020


[1] Heriot-Watt University Recovery Prospectus: https://www.hw.ac.uk/uk/business/economic-recovery.htm