Safeguarding Research Collaborations and Scientific Excellence

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2018.

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Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

We have heard much today about the vital work that our UK and Scottish research institutions carry out. That work is world leading.

From the Fraunhofer centre for applied photonics at the University of Strathclyde to the first international Max Planck institute partnerships, we have heard from all members about Scotland’s long history of and reputation for scientific prowess, with the potential for much more in the future.

The Conservatives welcome the recent news that Glasgow will be home to a £15.8 million artificial intelligence health research centre as part of the UK Government’s plans to utilise artificial intelligence in the healthcare sector. That is a major boost for Scotland’s life sciences sector. The industrial centre for artificial intelligence research in digital diagnostics, which is to be known as iCaird, will examine how Al can enable better patient diagnosis, treatment and outcomes. Anna Dominiczak, who is vice-principal and head of the college of medical, veterinary and life sciences at the University of Glasgow, said:

“The formation of iCaird is a great coup for Scotland and its people, and further positions Scotland’s ability to be a global leader in precision medicine.

The iCaird epitomises our ‘triple helix’ approach to healthcare innovation and precision medicine by developing research and innovation concurrently in industry, the NHS and academia.

By locating at the Clinical Innovation Zone at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, alongside partners in industry and the NHS, iCaird will also drive open innovation and encourage further industry collaborations.”

We have heard that we are all proud of the reputation of the research that Scotland’s institutions conduct and produce. Some 77 per cent of Scotland’s university research is deemed world leading or internationally excellent. In addition, 85.9 per cent of Scottish research is judged to have an outstanding or very considerable impact on the economy, society and culture beyond academia.

The motion highlights the challenges that we face, but it fails to acknowledge the great potential and positivity that we all must work towards as we move towards leaving the European Union. This has been mentioned before, but, as we all know, until the UK leaves the EU, we have the reassurance that we will remain a member state, with all the rights and obligations that that entails. That means that UK entities are eligible to participate in all aspects of the horizon 2020 programme until we leave the EU. I think that John Mason mentioned that it is not long until 2020. Moving forward, we need to support a deal specifically for the sector.

Looking forward, I think that it is significant that the UK Government has signalled a commitment to the future of our country and the world through our goal to increase UK research and development spending to 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product by 2027.

Alistair Jarvis, who is chief executive of Universities UK, has backed our commitment to horizon 2020 funding, saying:

“The extension of the UK government’s underwrite until the end of the Horizon 2020 program is welcome news.”

I think that we all welcome that news. He also mentioned that that is guaranteed even if there is a no-deal scenario, which, of course, we do not want. We want everyone to get behind a UK Government deal and behind the Prime Minister.

The UK Government has proposed post-Brexit co-operation in the sciences between the UK and the EU. The UK Government’s white paper on our future relationship with the EU includes science and innovation among the areas that will be covered by the co-operative accords that will replace our current relationship with the EU. As we leave the EU, it is inevitable that freedom of movement will end, but the UK Government has made it clear that a flexible system will be put in place to attract the brightest and best research students and researchers.

No matter what members on the other side of the chamber try to spin or put a negative angle on, we know that EU citizens’ right of residence after Brexit is guaranteed. Let us be really clear about that. The UK Government has introduced the settled status scheme, so EU citizens will have that right and can remain in the UK after 2020. The UK Government is also proposing the continuation of cultural exchange programmes for students and the creation of a UK and EU mobility scheme. John Swinney mentioned the post-study work visa scheme, which is something that Liz Smith has been championing. We have not had a definitive no, and we would like to continue to support that.