The bright future of arts and humanities research in Scotland

Exterior of a university building

Reflections from Scotland: collaboration and innovation in action, meeting the researchers, and a shared vision for the value and future of arts and humanities.

Scotland and enlightenment

My two recent visits to Scotland have been both illuminating and emotionally charged. I moved to St Andrews in 1992, and despite a somewhat roving life it remains part of my intellectual and spiritual identity.

Scotland became for me not just home, but a place of enlightenment, as it has been for many and for centuries. Challenging at times, and of course not perfect, there are aspects of the Scottish system which continue to inspire me:

  • the broad approach to curricula
  • the partnership building which I saw in physics and chemistry and, from an arts and humanities perspective, rather envied, and
  • the passionate commitment to the values of education and to the value of the challenge posed by thinking and thinking generously, have stayed with me.

They are not uniquely Scottish. But there is something specifically Scottish about the places and the manner in which they are performed. There was a reason why Scotland was core to the enlightenment, and it has something to do with thinking passionately together.

Scotland’s far-reaching impact and innovation

I am committed to engaging deeply and broadly with the UK education system. Research happens where teaching happens. Wherever we seek to exchange knowledge we add to it, I believe, and find something new. That’s true of universities but it’s also true of businesses, communities, and non-governmental organisations.

Engine Shed

Credit: AHRC

On my visits I saw how research was inspiring and building from the exchange of knowledge designers working to create better prosthetics. Conservators protecting Scotland’s unique environment. Craftspeople and community building around knowledge, landscape and care for the future.

I visited 12 universities, travelled from Inverness to Stirling, via Aberdeen, Dundee and St Andrews, ending in Glasgow and Edinburgh. These journeys in themselves highlight some of the social and environmental challenges which quite literally come with the territory.

Trip highlights

There are so many things that stay in my mind. These are just a few:

  • I watched students, who are part of our Creative Cluster InGame, show how games platforms can support decision making: from games for children that inspire carbon awareness to platforms supporting intelligent local authority planning
  • I witnessed the impact of AHRC funding in action at the Engine Shed in Stirling: through 3D photography and modelling use in conservation, and the inspiring drive of innovation in industry, from stonemasonry to digital asset management
  • I heard from the Global Challenges Research Fund AHRC-funded Rising from the Depths network on their inspiring work creating benefit and opportunity in East African communities through their coastal cultural heritage.
  • I was privileged to be one of the earliest visitors to the University of Glasgow’s superb Advanced Research Centre: a space which truly welcomes its local community to access and engage with cutting edge research and the exchange of ideas.

A bright future

Exterior of a university building in sunlight

Credit: AHRC

I was deeply moved by the warm welcome I received in Scotland. To return to this place of enlightenment and witness the passion and commitment both to the value of arts and humanities and to their role in addressing the challenges of our time was very special.

I left feeling hopeful for a bright future, with more collaboration, and a firm belief that arts and humanities truly are at the heart of this place in all its work: from industry to innovation to imagination.

Top image:  Credit: AHRC

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