14 Jan 2015
Just before Christmas the results of the Research Excellence Framework 2014 were published. If you haven’t heard of REF 2014 then you are almost certainly not an academic or a business person working alongside a university.
The REF is the current attempt to assess the quality and impact of the research work carried out by universities across the UK and they can have considerable implications for the allocation of the Government’s research funding.
Universities are hugely important to the economic development of any city, and so it was welcome news to find that all three of Glasgow’s universities have made healthy progress up the overall UK rankings - with Glasgow climbing 9 places to 24th, Strathclyde 13 places to 37th and Glasgow Caledonian 18 places to 75th. Congratulations to all, both academic and administrator, who helped to make that happen.
For some academics the REF process is a cumbersome, hugely time intensive and potentially distortive exercise. But for those of us looking in from the outside it gives some sense of the scale and quality of the research work of our city’s academic community.
Glasgow’s economy has successfully diversified over the past 20 years, so that our exposure to the fortunes of any single sector are much reduced and the prospects for long term growth that much more secure.
Of the six sectors specified in the city’s economic plans, low carbon industries, engineering and health and life sciences all have excellent examples of world leading research that depend on universities and industry working closely together.
So the REF results at the very least suggest that the prospects for more innovation encouraging more business investment and more profitable trade are improving.
We can look forward this year to the opening of both the Technology Innovation Centre at the University of Strathclyde on George Street and the new South Glasgow University Hospital campus in Govan. Both involve the physical co-location of industry with academic research teams. In the case of the hospital it also involves NHS clinicians so that the practical challenges of tackling ill-health in Glasgow can, if handled correctly, lead to business opportunity and jobs for the city.
As it happens I spent the first two days of the new working year contributing in a small way to the case being made to attract a further investment to the South Glasgow University Hospital campus. Whilst we won’t know until later in the year whether the pitch was successful, whatever does happen I now know much more about the work being done in Glasgow to find new treatments for life-threatening diseases.
Listening to the joint research work of business, academics and the NHS in expanding therapies for ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer or rheumatoid arthritis, to cite only three examples, was genuinely impressive. Scotland has some unique conditions which make it very likely breakthroughs will happen here, and Glasgow contributes more than its fair share to that work.
The message about Glasgow’s research strengths might once have been rather quietly communicated. I don’t think that’s true today, but you can be sure that the Chamber will be shouting as loudly as possible all the way through 2015.