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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Agenda: Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Ferries, National Health Service Waiting Times, Point of Order, Business Motions, Motion without Notice, Research Excellence Framework Results 2021


Contents


Research Excellence Framework Results 2021

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate, on motion S6M-04407, on congratulating Scottish universities on the Research Excellence Framework 2021 results. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges the results of the 2021 Research Excellence Framework, which it understands states that 84.86% of the research submitted by Scottish universities is considered “world-leading” or “internationally excellent” in its quality; considers that Scotland is a world-leading research nation; recognises what it sees as the contribution that this research has made to social and economic challenges faced in the UK, including in the West Scotland region, and abroad; welcomes the reported growth and investment arising from this world-class research, and considers that Scotland should capitalise on what it sees as the massive potential created by Scottish universities to improve sustainable economic growth.

17:18  

Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

I am honoured to hold my second members’ business debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, and to be celebrating Scotland’s status as a world-leading research nation.

I thank Universities Scotland and Scotland’s Rural College for sending briefings ahead of the debate. I also to congratulate the University of St Andrews on its ranking at the top of The Guardian’s 2023 university guide and on being named Scottish university of the year in The Timess good university guide 2023.

When I lodged the motion, I was delighted to learn that around 85 per cent of research that is submitted by Scottish universities is considered to be “world leading” or “internationally excellent” in quality. It is particularly impressive that every one of Scotland’s universities was found to be undertaking world-leading research. The research power behind Scotland’s universities is immense. It is the driving force behind many policy developments that help to identify and respond to socioeconomic challenges that face Scotland, the United Kingdom and the world.

One example is the partnership between Scotland’s Rural College and the University of Edinburgh, which retains its position as the strongest provider of agriculture, food and veterinary sciences in the UK. All 11 case studies that were submitted to the Research Excellence Framework, eight of which involve SRUC, were considered to be “world leading”. They range from topics including refined greenhouse gas reporting to barley disease management, all of which promote sustainable growth for Scotland’s natural economy.

It is not only the UK that stands to benefit from Scotland’s research contributions. As convener of the cross-party group on India, I have learned a great deal about international research collaborations. The University of Dundee, the University of Glasgow and the City of Glasgow College are all involved in the “clean Ganga” case study, which involves mapping and monitoring water quality in the River Ganga. That research will not only make a fantastic contribution to the environment in India, but will create transferable knowledge that can be shared and learned from at home and across the globe.

Let us not forget that research helped us to get through the pandemic and that, every day, it helps to cure diseases, as well as to identify new ones. Research finds solutions to problems and problems to solutions.

It is estimated that, for every £1 million of public investment in Scottish university research, £8 million is generated in economic output. Whether it is generated through creating growth in emerging industries, through job creation or through attracting foreign direct investment, it is clearly an attractive area of investment.

Universities Scotland has a bold ambition to take innovation partnerships with small and medium-sized enterprises across the UK to the next level. That is a necessary step for businesses responding to unpredictable or slow-growth markets, but it is also a must for sustainable economic growth.

There is an appetite for Scotland’s world-leading research capabilities, but we must capitalise on them; we cannot let them be a missed opportunity. The SNP-Green national strategy for economic transformation, “Delivering Economic Prosperity”, claims to want to transform the economy, but that message is not being translated into action yet.

There have been cuts to funding, including a 31 per cent real-terms cut in the research excellence grant since 2014-15, a projected 37 per cent real-terms cut to the teaching grant by 2024 and a £2,325 drop in funding per Scottish student since 2014. With such statistics, Scotland is losing its competitive edge on English universities. In contrast with Scotland, it is forecast that England’s quality research grant will increase by more than 10 per cent in cash terms between 2021 and 2023.

Universities are increasingly being asked to do more with less; the university funding model is on its knees. It is set to become more reliant on international tuition fees than it is on the SNP Government, which is a high-risk strategy. If the Scottish Government wants to see true transformation and growth, it needs to acknowledge that we need investment. To lose our competitive edge in research and development would be to lose one of the most attractive areas of investment in our economy.

Despite our reigning status as a world-leading research nation, the financial constraints that are facing universities risk stunting growth. The SNP Government must find a way not only to support but to champion our academic research. I, like every other member in the chamber, am keen to work across the parties towards a solution.

I hope that the Scottish Government will consider the asks from bodies including Universities Scotland and that it will look toward the economic return from the investment that is requested.

As the saying goes:

“No action without research; no research without action”

We move to the open debate.

17:25  

Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

I thank Pam Gosal for allowing Parliament, through her motion, to reflect on the remarkable success of Scottish universities.

In contributing to the debate I will highlight, in particular, the successes of the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde, which are located in my Glasgow Kelvin constituency.

Glasgow university has been ranked 13th and Strathclyde has been ranked 33rd in the Research Excellence Framework’s rankings of 129 institutions. Those are highly creditable rankings, and both universities should be proud of their performance, which has been achieved through intense focus and effort on the part of the staff, who also have busy teaching timetables and student welfare responsibilities. The University of Glasgow’s achievement is particularly exceptional, so I pay tribute to the university’s leadership team for its vision and commitment, and to the researchers who have delivered that result for the University of Glasgow and Scotland.

Before the summer recess, I visited the breathtaking new Mazumdar-Shaw?advanced research centre, which is known as the ARC. The new building is central to Glasgow university’s research strategy. Moreover, the unique concept of creating world-changing research that contributes to solving global challenges is a huge credit to the institution and its academics.

As members might know, the advanced research centre brings together more than 500 leading researchers in a building that was specifically designed to break down organisational structures, to facilitate collaboration and to provide true societal impact. By housing diverse teams in the same building, the ARC exposes individuals and research areas to one another so that they can collaborate, which increases opportunities for interdisciplinary working on global challenges. The building has exceptional features and accommodation. I encourage everyone to go and visit it, because the ground floor is open to the public at all times.

The fact that Glasgow university has achieved that remarkable ranking is all the more impressive because it has done so while also widening access for students from Scotland’s most deprived areas and achieving a ranking of 19th out of 1,046 international institutions in the world for its positive impact on society in the?Times Higher Education?impact rankings earlier this year.

I note, too, the quality of Strathclyde university’s research and its impact, which has been recognised by the Scottish Government’s significant investment in university ventures, including the advanced forming research centre and the Centre for Continuous Manufacturing and Advanced Crystallisation. It is also reflected in Strathclyde university’s leading role in national centres, including the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland and the medicines manufacturing innovation centre.

I will sound a note of serious concern. Brexit might not yet have dealt a “hammer blow” to research in Scottish universities, but we read earlier this year that one of Scotland’s top cancer experts is considering moving a major research project abroad, amid political turmoil and warnings that a Brexit-linked impasse over European Union funding will starve universities of talent.

In July this year, The Herald newspaper reported that Dr Payam Gammage, who works at the Cancer Research UK Beatson institute in Glasgow, warned that the UK’s departure from the £80 billion horizon Europe programme is accelerating Britain’s decline from being a global centre for scientific excellence. He also said that the development would significantly reduce Scotland’s appeal to overseas researchers and stressed that it is already proving to be impossible to attract applications from individuals in EU states.

That is not what Scotland voted for, but I will close on a note of hope that Scotland will return—sooner rather than later—to the EU’s valuable collaborative institutions, and that we will safeguard the ongoing excellence of our universities’ research input and output.

17:30  

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

We should measure what Kaukab Stewart has said against the actions of the SNP-Green Scottish Government. Before I get to that, I congratulate Pam Gosal for bringing the debate to the chamber. This is the first time that I have had the privilege of addressing the chamber in my new capacity as my party’s education spokesperson.

As was noted by Pam Gosal, there is world-leading research and development right here in Scotland that helps Scotland and the rest of Britain to tackle the real social and economic challenges that we face in this dynamic and changing world. That is why protecting and growing Scotland’s research capabilities should be of utmost importance to everyone in this Parliament. The SNP and the Greens may talk in a way that gives the impression that they understand that importance, but the reality of their actions shows us that they do not.

Ahead of today’s Education, Children and Young People Committee meeting, Universities Scotland submitted evidence that said:

“By 2024/25, universities’ teaching grant will have been cut by 34.7% in real terms over 10 years and the research budget will have been cut by 41%.”

Let those numbers sink in. By 2024-25, our

“universities’ teaching grant will have been cut by 34.7% in real terms over 10 years and the research budget ... cut by 41%.”

The Scottish Funding Council submitted evidence to the same committee, highlighting that

“the average annual research funding gap in Scotland from 2015-16 to 2018-18 was £328 million.”

There is a gap in SNP-Green credibility when they talk about excellence in our universities and in our research capabilities.

Analysis of the UK Research and Innovation industrial strategy challenge fund shows that

“only 6.5% of the funding went to Scotland”,

with

“44.2% going to London and the Southeast of England”.

That is another commentary on things as they are today. Collectively, the evidence shows that the success of research at Scotland’s universities, as is highlighted in the motion, is not because of Scottish Government policy, but despite it.

The Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

Mr Kerr referred to the amount of money that is drawn down through UKRI. Will he also reflect on the fact that Scotland’s universities won about 13 per cent of the UK’s project-based research funding with only about 8 per cent of the UK population? Given that he thinks that more money should be invested, will he tell us precisely where in the Scottish Government budget that money should come from?

Stephen Kerr

To help the minister to understand where I am coming from, I am supporting a motion that compliments and praises the research capabilities and performance of Scotland’s universities. However, I hope that I am very clearly saying that the SNP Scottish Government has much to answer for in its stewardship of Scotland’s university research funding.

Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

The minister will be well aware that, in 2014, Scotland captured up to 15 per cent of UKRI funding, so that figure has dropped by 2.5 per cent in the interim as a direct consequence of the funding gaps that Mr Kerr is highlighting.

Stephen Kerr

I am grateful to Michael Marra for bringing those facts to our attention.

World-leading research and development spurs innovation, invention and improvements in the Scottish economy. It is only a few months since the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes, launched a transformative plan for Scotland’s economy. At the centre of that plan are the centres of excellence in Scotland’s universities that will create high-paid jobs, sustainable economic growth and a competitive advantage for Scotland. By cutting Scotland’s research budget, the SNP not only puts Scotland’s world-leading research at risk, but cuts opportunities to create high-paid jobs and sustainable economic growth, and cuts opportunities to give Scotland a competitive advantage in the global economy. I simply ask whether that is what it calls being “stronger for Scotland”. I do not think so.

Rather than continuing with its financial cuts to research, which put the sector at risk, the SNP should acknowledge the mistakes that it has made. Rather than continuing to cut opportunities, it should be developing an ambitious plan that puts Scotland at the forefront of research and development in various fields including pharmaceuticals, industrial machinery, computer technology, agriculture and green energy. The funding that the Scottish Government provides must match the ambition of the plan. We cannot become complacent.

I can see that I am testing the patience of the Deputy Presiding Officer, who thinks that I have taken enough time. I probably have.

To conclude, I say that Scottish universities’ research deserves better than it gets from the SNP Scottish Government.

17:36  

Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

This place has a tradition of members’ business debates that are not overtly political and, rather, focus on agreement and celebration of shared cross-party interests. That is what I intend to do in my short remarks.

Scotland’s universities have achieved so much that is internationally excellent and world leading, which brings significant benefits for society.

I have an active long Covid community group in Falkirk East, and the international study into long Covid that the University of Glasgow led with the World Health Organization is likely to be of practical benefit to our understanding of the complexity of the condition. One of the characteristics of university research that is sometimes overlooked is the extent to which it involves working with others, as the University of Glasgow working alongside the WHO demonstrates.

The University of Stirling, in particular, deserves great praise, not least because it is close to my constituency and many of my constituents have benefited from undergraduate and postgraduate studies there. Indeed, some of its postgraduate research students contribute directly to its research excellence, and I know that Evelyn Tweed, the local MSP, is disappointed that she is currently unwell and missing the debate. I note in particular that the university’s institute of aquaculture is ranked first in the UK for impact, with 100 per cent of its research achieving the highest possible rating. It, too, has had huge links to other organisations in search of impact. After 30 years at the institute, the late Professor James Muir moved to a post with the United Nations, and in one of his last international assignments he reviewed the Benguela Current Convention, which is based in Namibia—a testament to both his and the university’s global standing.

I also have a connection to the University of Stirling, in which regard I must point to my entry in the register of members’ interests and my role as a director of the humanitarian organisation Revive Campaign. Two University of Stirling postgraduate students are conducting research for us. One is considering the impact of the war in Ukraine from a humanitarian standpoint, and the other is researching how humanitarian policies interact with the UN’s development goals.

In so many ways, our university research capability has profound practical benefits for society. As we look to the future, my contention is that the role of university-based research will be of even greater importance. The world in which we live is changing faster than ever. Most of the scientific and technological changes have been reliant on university research, and such changes have had impacts on our wider social and cultural lives. In the future, research-based change will be even faster.

The late Professor Tom Stonier, whom some dubbed the professor of the future, pointed out in the 1990s that, in the past 25 years of the 20th century, more people will have worked in front-line research than in the entire earlier history of the world, fuelling accelerating change.

Things have continued to develop, making research the most fundamental need for any society with ambitions to make progress. Scotland needs to hold fast to her ambition and continue to invest in our university research base, despite taxing economic times. Our very future depends on it.

17:39  

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Pam Gosal for bringing the motion before us. It is a pleasure to follow Michelle Thomson’s contribution, and I echo her final words about the importance of research for the future not just of Scotland but of the whole planet. It is in research where so many of the answers that we are desperately seeking, and about which we sometimes shout in the chamber, might be found—in a possibly more rational location—by those who apply their minds.

University research in Scotland is world leading—we have heard that. Every £1 million that the Scottish Government invests in university research generates a return of £8 million. Indeed, the return on every £1 million of UKRI funds is £12 million. The results for Scottish universities, which are based on 21,256 research outputs from 8,675 academic staff at 18 institutions, speak for themselves. We have heard that, across all areas of submitted research activity, 41 per cent of our research is 4*, world-leading research and 44 of it is 3*, internationally excellent research. Fifty per cent of our research is judged as world leading or internationally excellent, which demonstrates excellence across our country.

However, when it comes to hard realities, what does that mean? For the chamber’s information, there are, apparently, 31,097 universities and higher education institutions across the world. The USA has 3,216 of those; Australia has 190; Canada has 387; China has 2,564; and across the United Kingdom, we have 280. What does that look like for people who get up in the morning and go out to work? Here in Scotland, the University of Edinburgh’s world-leading research led to a change in the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland, and we now have the lowest number of young people in prison since 1972. At a UK level, University of Edinburgh research saved the national health service £2 billion over six years by improving stroke prevention. Around the world, the university’s research has saved a million children’s lives from pneumonia and led to a ban on corporal punishment in schools in several South American countries. Apparently, 175 million smartphones are faster, greener and ready for the complex demands of tomorrow and 5G because of University of Edinburgh research.

However, the difference in excellence between Scotland and the rest of the UK is narrowing, and that challenge needs to be addressed. There are funding pressures. Despite a sector-best performance, eight universities in Scotland saw their research funding cut this spring, following the Research Excellence Framework results, due to insufficient investment in the research excellence grant allocated by the Scottish Funding Council. Four of our highest-performing universities experienced cuts of more than £1 million. Professor Iain Gillespie, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Dundee, writes:

“So where did this leave the University of Dundee, as a mid-sized Scottish research-intensive university? The answer is in the ‘squeezed middle’, that group of institutions which, despite excellent overall results in the REF, including outstanding results in some areas, have received a significant reduction in REG funding from the SFC.”?

That is a challenge going forward. It is a challenge for this SNP-Green Scottish Government, because the challenge that we heard about from Michelle Thomson is that, if we do not fund research—applied research to move things forward as well as the blue-sky thinking that is needed—Scotland’s future will look grim, as will the UK’s and the world’s. That is because, without our researchers—our scientists, engineers and technologists and indeed the whole teams who gather together to solve some of the hardest problems that we face and some who truly think the impossible and then make it possible—we will have a very dim future.

17:44  

Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Pam Gosal for securing the debate in the chamber. It is right that we have the opportunity to celebrate the research culture and outputs of our universities. As Martin Whitfield rightly highlighted, the university sector is an ancient and enduring strength of Scotland. We should hold our universities as a delicate treasure of our country. I am proud to represent a region that has four particularly outstanding universities: the University of Aberdeen, Robert Gordon University, Abertay University and the University of Dundee.

Before I talk about projects and general issues, I will mention the professional staff who work in the universities for whom the REF process as they know it is, frankly, a nightmare. The process is not enjoyable and it takes many hours of filling in complex case studies and producing evidence in order to be assessed. We owe them our thanks for our universities’ fantastic standing and the fact that we are all here to celebrate that.

Those universities and individuals do not do any of that work alone. Research in universities is, fundamentally, a collaborative process. It is done with partners and other institutions across the UK and internationally. We do not have to look further than the work that was done in our universities during the Covid pandemic to rapidly produce vaccines, when people could collaborate across borders. Some of the barriers to that collaboration were taken down—I hope for ever—in that process in areas such as pre-print publications and the rapid dissemination of test results. That meant that there could be human benefit, rather than simply the production of intellectual property, as a result of the outputs of our publicly funded institutions.

Kaukab Stewart was right to highlight Brexit, which has been a fundamental attack on the culture of collaboration. We should not walk away from or dismiss the challenges that Brexit brings—I do not think that anyone in the chamber would do that—and the barriers that have been put up to the access to European institutions, with their fantastic resources and different cultures of research, as a result of Brexit. Collaboration is about sharing knowledge and making sure that there is open access to information.

I know colleagues across universities whose careers have been fundamentally damaged by the Brexit process. They were funded by European projects, which is a different track of funding and a different way to gain resource. Having that removed has ruined some careers in Scotland and right across the UK. Frankly, that is shameful. The sooner we get it right in terms of full access to those collaborations, the better.

Kaukab Stewart and Scottish National Party members have to reflect on not putting up barriers to collaboration. In the spirit of Michelle Thompson’s point about not being too political, I will not go too much further in that respect. However, if we are going to make sure that we have continued collaboration, that has to be at the forefront of the minds of SNP members so that they can make sure that barriers are not put up to how we work across our islands, either. It does not serve the Scottish Parliament well not to highlight the challenges that we have. I know that the minister will respond to that point in his closing remarks.

At a meeting of the Education, Children and Young People Committee this morning, Professor George Boyne, principal of the University of Aberdeen, drew attention to the long-term trends of decline. In the REF figures that we are celebrating, English universities, Welsh universities and universities in the rest of the UK have improved their performance at a faster rate than Scottish universities have. As a Parliament, that is the challenging truth for us. As parliamentarians, if we are going to safeguard the ancient and fantastic culture of research that we have in Scotland, we have to do better. We need to have a long-term, hard look at how we make sure that those trends do not scupper our universities in the years to come.

17:48  

The Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

I thank Pam Gosal for lodging the motion and for securing the debate. It has been a useful opportunity for us to reflect on and celebrate the many successes of Scotland’s academic institutions and their research strengths. We know that we have a world-class research base in Scotland and that the new knowledge and insights that the sector produces are fundamental to our on-going economic recovery and growth.

Like Pam Gosal, I congratulate the University of St Andrews on the news that it has received in recent days. I thank members for their contributions—I will try to respond to as many of them as I can. Mr Kerr’s contribution this evening gives me the opportunity to welcome him to his new role as the Conservative education spokesperson. I look forward to his on-going constructive contribution to the discourse on all matters educational. I am sure that I can rely on him in that regard.

Returning to this evening’s subject matter, the recent Research Excellence Framework results fundamentally demonstrate that there is much to be celebrated in Scottish research. Our success does not rely only on a few institutions—Scottish university research is world class across the board. There is evidence of world-leading research in every single university in Scotland. We should laud, celebrate and make every effort to highlight that. Martin Whitfield laid out some of that in detail, so I will not re-rehearse what he said.

Will the member take an intervention?

Absolutely.

I want to clarify a point. The Open University in Scotland’s research is attributed to the Open University as a whole, rather than being separate, distinct and resting in the figures for Scotland.

Jamie Hepburn

Indeed. I note that the Open University in Scotland, which I have regular dialogue with, is a valued part of the landscape of higher education in Scotland.

I join Michael Marra in acknowledging the achievements of our universities. We can talk about those achievements in generic terms, but all those achievements rely on the individual contributions of people who are working day in, day out on research in various disciplines. I, too, thank those individuals.

That research allows our nation to make significant breakthroughs on some of the biggest challenges that we face and on the opportunities that we have. Scottish researchers are driving innovations in how we treat cancer and dementia, they are developing solutions that address the climate emergency and child poverty and they are bringing new knowledge that transforms our healthcare, technology, environmental sustainability and more. Of course, they have also played a critical role in reorienting and gearing much of the research activity during the Covid-19 period to ensure that we responded to the challenges that we have faced. It is therefore unsurprising that the REF results show that almost 90 per cent of our impact is judged to be outstanding or very considerable.

I say to Kaukab Stewart that I have seen first hand how Scottish research at the University of Glasgow has changed lives. I visited the Research into Inflammatory Arthritis Centre Versus Arthritis, where I met world-leading researchers who are advancing our understanding of the causes of rheumatoid arthritis, which affects more than 400,000 adults in the UK and more than 44,000 in Scotland. That underlines the impact that research can have on people’s lived experience. It also speaks to the partnership approach that Michelle Thomson spoke of. I have seen examples of that world-leading research at all the institutions that I have mentioned.

Will the minister take an intervention?

Yes, I will take a brief one.

Stephen Kerr

The minister has a tremendous responsibility, because it is in his stewardship to see that the numbers quoted this morning from Universities Scotland about the real-terms cut of 41 per cent to the research budget over 10 years is reversed. Will the minister tell us what he will do to fight much harder to ensure that that investment in Scotland’s future is increased on his watch?

Jamie Hepburn

I will come to talk about the figures, but I guess that that was a reference to the recent research excellence grant awards. That process has always been competitive—that has not changed—and the nature of any competitive process means that some will benefit more than others. I want to place on record that that model was shaped in consultation with the sector.

I was about to make a point about the impact of Brexit, which Kaukab Stewart and Michael Marra mentioned. That is of concern to me. I assure all members that this Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that there are no barriers to research. This morning, I was very happy to go to an event at the University of Edinburgh with Una Europa, which is a coalition of universities that stretch across the continent. That underlines the international approach that we take in Scotland. I reaffirm that I very much support that approach and that the Scottish Government values it.

With regard to our research base, I am now able to place on record an issue that has not been mentioned in the debate but that speaks to some of the figures that have been bandied about. For all the points that have been made—I take them seriously—Scotland still ranks seventh among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries for higher education research and development spend as a percentage of gross domestic product. That is above the EU average and the OECD average, and it is well above the UK average as well.

We are continuing to invest. We have put nearly £300 million into research and innovation for 2022-23, which is an increase over the previous fiscal year. Last year, we spent £3 million on our saltire research award, which supported 200 projects between Scotland and Europe. All that contributes towards a wealth of research activity and enables universities to leverage additional resource. That, in turn, enables Scotland, which has 8 per cent of the UK population as I mentioned, to win around 13 per cent of the UK’s project-based research funding.

Scottish institutions win 12 per cent of the overall research grants and contracts from EU Government bodies that are secured by the UK. Over the period 2014-2020, Scottish organisations won €874 million from horizon 2020—an EU research and innovation funding programme—which is around 11 per cent of the overall UK winnings under that programme. We are punching above our weight.

Will the minister give way?

Jamie Hepburn

If I am able to, I will in a moment.

The horizon 2020 programme is a particular area of concern right now, because we have a UK Government that is ready to take us out of it. That programme delivered nearly €900 million of investment from 2014 to 2020 to Scotland. That is above the UK’s performance.

Presiding Officer, do I have time to take an intervention?

I can give you the time back, minister.

Michael Marra

The minister’s point about us punching above our weight is well made. Earlier, I made a point about the declining trend in that regard. I highlight the University of Dundee’s performance in biomedical sciences: it is the number 1 university in the whole of the UK for biomedical sciences. Life sciences will drive the future of the Scottish economy. Dundee is better than all but Cambridge and Oxford.

The remaining issue, which has been raised by Professor Iain Gillespie, is that that performance was actually punished. It resulted in a cut to the research excellence grant to the University of Dundee. What does the minister have to say to universities that have performed outstandingly—astonishingly, in fact—and have had their resources cut as a result?

Jamie Hepburn

I think that it is silly to talk about universities being punished. We have a competitive system. Institutions put forward their work, it is assessed under the framework and grants are awarded. That is reflected in the overall uplift in the quality of research that we have seen. That is something to be celebrated, and I would have thought that Mr Marra would want to join in that celebration.

I conclude by saying again that I am enormously grateful for all the activity in our academic institutions that is undertaken across the length and breadth of the country. We should be proud of that effort. We should talk at every opportunity about that effort. So much work is going on that is to be welcomed, and I encourage all members to get out to their local institutions to see some of it for themselves. I can certainly tell you, Presiding Officer, that I make it a core part of my activities to go out to celebrate all of Scotland’s wonderful research carried out by our academic institutions.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you very much, indeed, minister. I can assure you and those in the chamber that I will be attending the University of the Highlands and Islands graduation ceremony in the coming days.

That concludes the debate.

Meeting closed at 17:58.