Innogen · News · July 10, 2014

PRESS RELEASE: Why Scotland’s science doesn’t translate into innovation

The science base in Scotland is strong, but it has not translated well into innovation, according to a new briefing by the Innogen Institute to inform the referendum debate.

However, the study shows that there is an opportunity to move beyond just good science towards good innovation by undertaking an integrated approach that successfully uses Scotland’s human capital, increases research and development funding and expenditure, and encourages collaboration between academics and industry.

The contribution of Scotland’s science community has been significant in the past, and current trends suggest that Scotland is geared to produce high-quality research in the future. In particular, Scotland’s publication record (per million heads of population) is outstanding compared to other developed countries, especially in the fields of agriculture, biological sciences, biochemistry and immunology. Yet, this scientific excellence has not translated well into innovation.

Among the factors contributing to the weak relationship between science and innovation in Scotland are:

Human Capital: Scotland does not exploit its human capital as much as it potentially could. One factor of this is the fact that in Scotland, fewer graduates with tertiary education, compared to other innovative countries, have found employment in High and Medium-High Technology sectors. Additionally, Scotland has been notably weak in cultivating commercial and managerial skills, which are critical for developing innovation from basic science. As a result, spinouts and start-ups tend to leave Scotland and find a base elsewhere once their businesses start to grow. Lack of these large companies means that there are not enough ‘role models’ for SMEs to emulate, and the loss of more experienced entrepreneurs creates a hole in Scotland’s entrepreneurial skills base.

Research & Development Funding and Expenditure: Scotland’s percentage of total R&D expenditure to GDP (1.7 percent) is considerably lower than other innovative countries. This disparity is mostly driven by the lower performance of the business sector, rather than higher education and government. This calls for adopting measures that can potentially encourage R&D investment in Scotland, such as R&D tax credits and making connections with foreign venture capitalists in order to penetrate global markets.

Academic-Industry Collaboration: The ability to collaborate across organisational and disciplinary boundaries is known to contribute to innovation. Historically, Scotland has not been particularly strong in forming and harnessing collaboration, and such a lack between companies and academia can decrease the capacity of companies to acquire and absorb knowledge from academia and each other. Moreover, Scotland has not been successful in establishing lucrative clusters, which are essential to creating critical mass and enabling innovation.

Professor David Wield, who oversaw the Innogen Institute’s ESRC Future of the UK and Scotland projects, further explained:

“Complementing the current REF system with further incentives for academics to collaborate with industry and economy, encouraging the formation of clusters and meta-clusters within Scotland, and facilitating internationalisation of Scottish companies are potential paths for reinforcing the innovation base within Scotland.

“The independence debate provides an opportunity to move from the traditional argument that in Scotland ‘science is good, innovation is weak’ towards a more integrated innovation approach. An innovation systems approach would build on specific application areas to support the diverse capacities and linkages needed to strengthen the connections between industry and Scotland’s science, business and innovation base, which would involve an integrated raft of activities and institutions focused on existing and emerging industries and services.”

Read the full policy briefing, The ‘disconnect’ between science and innovation within Scotland at: innogen.ac.uk/briefings/886

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For further information about this press release of for interview requests, please contact:

Elisabeth Barlow, Communications and Policy Officer, Innogen Institute
elisabeth.barlow@ed.ac.uk / Tel: 0131 650 2842 / Mob. 07837 900 613

Notes to editor:

  • Professor David Wield is Professor of Innovation and Development at the Open University and Director of the ESRC Innogen Centre at the University of Edinburgh; Dr Omid Omidvar is a Research Fellow at the Innogen Institute; and Professor Joyce Tait is Professor at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the Innogen Institute.
  • The Innogen Institute is a dynamic collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and the Open University that is renowned for world-leading research with global impact on the social and economic aspects of the life sciences and emerging technologies. In areas such as food and energy security, global health and development, and innovation systems, Innogen offers in-depth, rigorous research and impartial, evidence based advice to public and private stakeholders.
  • The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the Future of the UK and Scotland work to impartially inform the referendum debate and policy environment afterwards, whatever the outcome.