Going home

After spending several weeks on the road supporting Runrig Malachy starts the long journey home from

Having been in England touring for the past three weeks, it felt good to be on the way home again.

I took the nine o’clock train on Wednesday morning from London King’s Cross and gazed out of the window as we rolled northwards towards Edinburgh. The clutter and bustle of the city soon gave way to green, and the urban interventions grew increasingly infrequent the closer to Scotland we became.

A dense haze lay over much of the country, covering fields and towns, and cloaking Durham cathedral in a strange half-light which made that city seem hardly real at all. And when the sea finally appeared, just south of the border, the horizon too was disguised, so it was hard to discern where the water ended and the sky began. It was a relief though to have it there – the cold North Sea – alongside the train, and I felt somehow more relaxed to see it, and to feel the space open up beyond the shore.

From Edinburgh I took a second train, continuing onwards to Aberdeen. The route follows the east coast, passing small seaside towns and villages on its way, as well as the cities of Perth and Dundee. It is a pleasant journey, and one which I have taken dozens of times over the years. Here the air was clearer and the sky blue. The horizon was now sharp as a knife edge.

Getting to Shetland can be done quickly or slowly – by air or by land and sea. I prefer the slow route. For one thing it is more comfortable; the hours spent on the train from London were relaxing, if not exactly luxurious, and the ferry journey north from Aberdeen can be enjoyable if the weather behaves, as it did this night.

It is good, also, to be reminded of just how far away from things we really are – from the noise and the dirt and the chaos of London in particular. Seven hours on a train, then 12 on a ferry, are enough to give a real sense of distance and, I think, of perspective. Travelling by plane makes it all seem too easy, and too close.

The boat arrived in Lerwick at 7.30 on Thursday morning, just as light was beginning to descend on the town. A pale sky of pink and blue in the southeast was just fading towards daylight as I walked from the ferry terminal towards the town centre.

At this time of year there is no way of getting to Fair Isle on a Thursday, which meant I had a day’s wait in Lerwick before my Friday morning flight. Or, at least, that was the plan. But Friday dawned grey and dark, with a south-westerly gale still raging from the previous night, and all plans were suddenly worthless.

Phoning the airport at regular intervals during the day for updates on the weather situation, I could hear an infectious lack of optimism in the voice of the woman I spoke to. And though the wind did ease during the morning, the change was accompanied by clouds descending and rain increasing. So when I was finally told at three o’clock to get myself to the airport as quickly as possible, I could hardly believe we would be getting home after all.

I was right. We didn’t. The clouds lifted briefly, and then descended once again. The flight was cancelled.

So I’m sitting writing this in a friend’s living room in Lerwick, with the rain still battering the window. The next flight will be Monday morning; though, again, the weather doesn’t look promising. On days like these, distance can suddenly lose its appeal.

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
Show Hide image

An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com