Supporting world-leading innovation and a dynamic digital economy

Key points:

  • Driving Innovation Action Plan
  • Muscatelli Report highlights substantial economic contribution of our Universities
  • Cumberford-Little Report on the economic impact of Colleges due in February 2020

Innovation is about ideas that create jobs and wealth for the people of Scotland. We want Scotland to be a leader in the technological and social innovations of the future. That is why we are investing in industrial transformation, helping businesses to adopt digital technology, and promoting data driven innovation. We will continue to broker access for Scotland to global value chains through targeted innovation-led collaboration and partnerships with other international partners to tackle shared domestic and global challenges. We will also leverage such collaborations as points of external investment and funding. We want this package of investment to deliver exciting opportunities for business and society and showcase Scotland as an innovative nation.

We will continue to work with the public, private and university and college sectors to drive forward our Innovation Action Plan. Through this we will take action to support innovation across businesses, sectors and places. We’ll use public sector spend to catalyse innovation and make best use of the research, knowledge and talent of our universities, research institutes and colleges to drive innovation and growth.

At a meeting on 13 November 2018 the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work commissioned Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli in an independent capacity to take forward work on the economic contribution of universities. His final report, Driving Innovation - A National Mission, was published on 27 November 2019 and includes 22 recommendations which cover:

  • Aligning the higher education sector and other relevant stakeholders towards a collective ambition to make Scotland a world-leading innovative nation and setting clear priorities to achieve this ambition;
  • Ensuring the sector is able to collaborate and coordinate in bidding for UK funding streams, and in knowledge exchange and innovation activities;
  • Using university alumni and international networks to support Scotland’s global ambitions;
  • Maximising the role and impact of Higher Education Institutions in their local and regional economies;
  • Optimising the offer universities give to industry and potential inward investors;
  • Breaking down barriers between industry and academia to incentivise the free movement of people and knowledge; and
  • Ensuring the long-run financial sustainability of university research and innovation activities.

The Economy Secretary announced on 5 August 2019 a similar review of the economic impact of colleges, led by Edinburgh College Principal Audrey Cumberford and City of Glasgow College Principal Paul Little. The final report is expected to be published in February 2020 and to will:

  • Establish how colleges in Scotland currently impact on the economy through helping improve businesses’ performance and productivity (for example, though upskilling and reskilling);
  • Consider their economic impact across a wider range Scottish Government priorities;
  • Highlight examples of best practice in Scotland (and where possible, internationally); and
  • Make recommendations on how to realise untapped potential for creating sustained business growth, within college regions and beyond.

The report will reflect the likely operating environment of an increasingly diverse and inclusive workforce, and the need to improve both regional and metropolitan competitiveness.

We will be considering these recommendations from both the Muscatelli and Cumberford-Little Reports in detail and responding over the coming year.

Case study: University team develops innovative device to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment

Researchers from Heriot-Watt University’s Natantis team were recently awarded £574,500 from Scottish Enterprise’s High Growth Spin-out Programme. This will enable it to commercially develop an innovative device that could revolutionise the way blood samples are prepared for use in cancer diagnosis and treatment monitoring – producing faster, cheaper, more reliable and better-quality samples.

The Natantis team, which hopes to be a commercial venture by 2020, created the CNAsafe device to extract cell-free nucleic acids (cfNA) from whole blood. The demand for the type of testing this facilitates, known as liquid biopsies, is growing as it replaces invasive and often impractical tissue biopsies.

Extracting cfNA from blood has until now been a labour-intensive, highly-skilled and time-consuming process. It takes place across two distinct stages, often in different locations up to one week apart. Using CNAsafe means samples could be extracted in just 45 minutes.

The team showcased the technology at Heriot-Watt’s new GRID building – which stands for Global Research Innovation and Discovery. The facility is fully-equipped with next generation technologies that empower students, entrepreneurs and start-ups to commercialise creative ideas.

Natantis’ principal investigator, Dr Maiwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas, said: “The High Growth Spin-out Programme is a fantastic opportunity to bridge the gap between the academic lab and the commercial enterprise. We’re looking forward to moving to the new GRID building as an incubator for Natantis, just a stone’s throw from Edinburgh Airport, with all the benefits of the campus’ facilities.”

Combined with our approach on skills, we will both lead the transition to a more digitally enabled economy and increase the opportunities for Scotland’s people to thrive.