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SICSA celebrates positive outcomes from SFC independent review

The Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance (SICSA) is welcoming the publication of a positive report on the last decade of their research, policymaking and industrial partnerships.

The full report can be found at the Scottish Funding Council.

Along with an overview of all other projects supported by the pooling initiative, the Independent Review of the Scottish Funding Council’s Research Pooling Initiative, published today (Tuesday October 1), provides an overview of the SFC’s programme to strengthen Scottish higher education by combining resources to compete more effectively on the world stage.

Along with an overview of all other projects supported by the pooling initiative, the review document and evidence presented offers praise for numerous areas of SICSA’s activities, including:

  • research theme leaders in AI’s contribution to the AI strategy for Scotland
  • sustained engagement with the trade-body and cluster management organisation for digital technologies in Scotland (ScotlandIS)
  • the establishment of the SICSA Cyber Nexus for Cyber Security

Strong representation in Scottish Computing Science education, including the Scottish Government Digital Skills: Industry – Education and Training Strategy board, CodeClan, Digital Skills Partnership and SQA Computing Qualifications steering group.

SICSA is a world-leading collaboration of Scottish university departments of computer science and informatics across 14 universities, with a base at the University of Glasgow. Since 2008, SICSA has been supported by £98m in human and capital investment from the University sector and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC)

The review highlights SICSA’s notable performance in competitively awarded research income. The Alliance generated £317m, which represents 18% of the UK total, second only to the South East of the UK’s 19%.

Professor Aaron Quigley is Chair of Human Computer Interaction at the University of St Andrews and director of SICSA. He said: “We’re delighted by the results of the independent review published today. Since it was established more than 10 years ago, SICSA has grown its membership to sustain and expand Scotland’s research excellence in informatics and computer science, and we’ve worked hard to improve the quality of research across Scotland by pooling and sharing expertise and access to resources. We also work hard to promote the transfer of research results to benefit companies and the public sector in Scotland.

“Many aspects of computing in human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence and data science were pioneered here in Scotland, and we have a world-class reputation for excellence in computing science.

“By expanding our research and improving its quality, between the national Research Assessment Exercise in 2008 and the Research Excellence Framework in 2014, our citation impact grew by over 20% while our international collaboration on publications grew by over 30%, which was amongst the highest growth of any of the research pools. Along with a 21% increase in SICSA publication activity, ahead of other regions in the UK, SICSA has developed what was already an excellent research environment and has leveraged it for national advantage, to create a vibrant university community that represents all aspects of Scottish informatics and computer science.“

Another major SICSA effort, the planning and establishment of the Data Lab, is also singled out for attention in the review. The Data Lab, established in 2013, brings together SICSA, ScotlandIS and the Scottish Technology Advisory Group and 27 companies to help Scottish industry benefit from data science.

The report notes that ‘the relationship between The Data Lab and SICSA appears to work well, aided by the fast innovation cycle time between research and industry in this space’.

Gillian Docherty OBE, CEO of The Data Lab, said: “The Data Lab which was brought to life by efforts of SICSA and other Scottish stakeholders, now has hubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen, but covers academic engagement all across Scotland, and with 14 University partners.

“On a weekly basis, The Data Lab works with the SICSA team and members on activity and support which enables us to have significant and deep engagement with academia in Scotland. Our natural synergies means we can leverage SICSAs capability in terms of their networks into the breadth of the universities here, across Europe and beyond. SICSA has helped us build a world class centre in data innovation, which is delivering a step-change in the way universities work with Industry and the public sector for economic, social and scientific benefit.”

Professor Muffy Calder, Vice-Principal and Head of College of Science and Engineering at the University of Glasgow, said: “SICSA has impacted our own community of researchers, for example programs of support (e.g. PhD conference and bursaries) that began with collaborative SICSA PhD studentships, has now been extended to the whole PhD student population in Scotland. And further, the SICSA research community has supported and helped develop new government policy, for example in Computing Science Education at School and an AI Strategy for Scotland. The report represents an exciting opportunity for SICSA and the academic computer science community to play a key role in the review’s ambitious vision for research pooling in the years ahead.”

There are 96,000 people employed in the technology sector across Scotland (ONS 2017). Computation underpins the future economic success of Scotland with a 38% growth rate projected for the 5 years ahead. Per head, the technology sector generates 40% higher Gross Value Add (GVA) than for the economy as a whole, making it a considerable contributor to Scotland’s economy. Tapping into the skills base here, JP Morgan, Barclays Wealth, KPMG and Lloyds have recently announced 4,200 new jobs in the next two years alone.

Reflecting on the change SICSA has brought to the academic landscape, Dr Polly Purvis OBE, CEO  of ScotlandIS, said: “SICSA is a great ‘front door’ into the wealth of exceptional research the Scottish universities offer, enabling much easier access for industry and providing a unique mechanism to enable ScotlandIS as the membership organisation for digital technologies to liaise with all our universities in a streamlined way.”

Chris van der Kuyl, chairman of Dundee-based game development studio 4J Studios said: “The Independent Review of the Scottish Funding Council’s Research Pooling Initiative has emphasised the success of the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance (SICSA). While the research income, publications and quality of work show the top market share for the discipline in the UK and Europe, it’s the change in the national technology sector we must focus on. Our world-leading Scottish universities produce the technology graduates with the skills and talent required to power our future economic success. To ensure we prepare for an evermore computationally driven economy, investment is needed to ensure SICSA forms the foundation for Scotland’s research powerhouse of the future.”

November 4th sees the 12th year of the SICSA DemoFest: Bringing Research to Life. This is the largest event of its kind in Scotland, showcasing the very best of Informatics and Computing Science research, and engaging the business community to highlight opportunities for innovation.

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