Enabling our colleges and universities to drive innovation

A photograph of a student using computer imaging software

Key points:

  • Continuing to provide Scottish universities with funding via the Scottish Funding Council in support of excellent research and effective knowledge exchange between academia and businesses
  • Continuing to support interface and Scotland’s programme of Innovation Centres
  • Continuing to support the College Innovation Fund to encourage translation of academic research and vocational skills into business innovation.

The global strength and excellence of Scotland’s research base was made clear in last year’s Science Landscape report from the Scottish Science Advisory Council. Scotland is in the top quartile of OECD countries for higher education expenditure on research and development (HERD) as a percentage of GDP, as well as having four universities in the world’s top 200 (Times Higher Education), more than any country per head of population except Switzerland. We want to ensure we maintain that position and that Scotland’s research outputs translate into economic, social and environmental impacts in support of the aims of the National Performance Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals.

We are working collaboratively across the public sector by building on the £100 million already invested in Scotland’s university-hosted Innovation Centres. These have been having a transformational effect on our economy across a number of key sectors and emerging technologies.

We are committed to enabling our colleges and universities to play an active role in business innovation. We are providing Scottish universities with funding to encourage closer links between academia and industry and supporting Interface to help businesses find and access academic expertise, research, technologies, specialist facilities and funding and to work collaboratively with each other and academia to tackle industry sector challenges.

We also work with the SFC to fund a range of activities aimed at boosting business links with colleges: this includes the recently launched £500k College Innovation Fund, which will see innovation centres and colleges working collaboratively to demonstrate a new approach to skills training. It will also invest in a pioneering College Innovation Accelerator Fund and provide further support for the College Innovation Voucher Scheme.

And we will also be considering the recommendations from both the Muscatelli and Cumberford-Little Reports in detail and responding over the coming year. (See earlier section on Innovation.)

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."

Key resources:

Innovation Centres


Scottish Funding Council: University Innovation Fund

Scottish Funding Council

Converge Challenge