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Scotland may only have 8.3% of the UK’s population, but our universities run 22% of the UK’s data science master’s courses.

That’s a pretty significant number. Here are a few more:

  • Over 3,000 students in Scotland graduate each year in a computing/informatics discipline
  • Scotland has around 150 companies that are focused on delivering value from data
  • The turnover of these businesses is around £1 billion and they employ an estimated 5,550 people in data-related activity

So why is Scotland such a data science hotspot? It many ways, it all comes back to our universities.

We estimate that over the next five years there is potential to get anywhere within the region of £15-20 billion of benefits for the economy from the use of data across different sectors.

David Smith, sector director for technical and engineering, Scottish Enterprise

“A lot of Scotland’s expertise can be linked back to our strengths across our universities, and Edinburgh University in particular,” says David Smith, sector director for technical and engineering at Scottish Enterprise.

“Data science has been evolving in Scotland and on a wider global scale. We can trace it back, especially in Edinburgh but also in other parts of the country, to just over a decade ago. There was a particular level of focus and investment by the academic base and some early-stage companies.”

Our skilled – and, crucially, affordable – workforce make Scotland an attractive location for inward investors, who sometimes struggle to find the technical and data science talent that they need.

Working together to make data work better

Collaboration between Scotland’s universities and research institutions, businesses and the government has been crucial in fuelling the growth of the data sector. After all, groundbreaking technologies aren’t developed in isolation.

Cloud-based data analysis platform Aridhia, for instance, works with leading academic institutions like Glasgow and Aberdeen universities to apply data from records that are held by the National Health Service (NHS). This data provides insight into the causes of some chronic conditions – a great example of how data science can be used to make a real difference.

There is also data science research happening in Edinburgh, thanks to a collaboration between global tech giant Intel and Edinburgh University through the Alan Turing Institute. Experts are working together on a research programme focused on computing and data analytics, which will lead to new software and technology developments.

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The Data Lab is another player in Scotland’s data scene. It helps businesses, the public sector and university researchers come together to develop new data science solutions through collaboration. With hubs in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, it has close ties with a number of universities and research institutions that specialise in informatics and computer science.

Gathering data from the skies

Glasgow has built more satellites than any other city in Europe in the past two years. This demonstrates Scotland’s expertise in small satellite systems (smallsats) and the data that you can get from them. It’s estimated that more than 250 smallsats will be launched into space in 2017 – four times the number of all other satellites combined.

One inward investor that’s doing innovative work in this area is Spire Global. This American satellite-powered data company has a Glasgow base where staff work on products for global ship tracking and high frequency weather data. Its data offers deep insights into parts of the world where collecting data is difficult.

Another leading company in this sector is Ecometrica, which provides a software platform for corporate sustainability and data management. It won a £14.2 million contract for Forests 2020, a project to help protect and restore up to 300 million hectares of tropical forest. The project will improve forest monitoring across six partner countries through the advanced use of satellite data.

Up to £20 billion in economic benefits

Scotland’s data science and technology sector is growing at an impressive speed – and it shows no signs of slowing down.

“We have started to see a real increase in the number of digital-based businesses, and a number of businesses have grown using data and extracting value from data, or building platforms to manipulate data,” David says.

“We estimate that over the next five years there is potential to get anywhere within the region of £15-20 billion of benefits for the economy from the use of data across different sectors.” 

Could your business benefit from Scotland’s data revolution?

Find out how we support data science in Scotland