Scotland is the UK’s second-largest life sciences cluster, with over 770 organisations employing more than 41,000 people. And with the industry continuing to grow, it’s becoming an increasingly attractive proposition for scientists and researchers in the UK and beyond.
As we explored in a previous blog, Scotland’s STEM sector is thriving. Building on the country’s prestigious scientific heritage, businesses are joining forces with local government to make the country a world leader in STEM research.
And with Scotland offering solid career progression, an abundance of breathtaking scenery and a high quality of life, STEM professionals are relocating to the country in their droves.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the dynamic science hubs that are driving innovation in Scottish STEM.
A cosmopolitan and bustling metropolis with around 220,000 inhabitants, Aberdeen — nicknamed the Granite City — is Scotland’s third most populous city and a major STEM hub.
In the late 20th century, this regional capital on the northeast coast became famous for its North Sea oil, sparking a modern-day gold rush. By the 2000s, novel industries such as biotech had also come to the fore — accelerating the growth of Aberdeen’s STEM workforce.
Aberdeenshire’s diverse STEM economy is underpinned by a host of world-leading research institutions and life-science organisations. If that’s not all, the food and drink industry also attracts leading businesses to the city. According to InvestAberdeen, the Aberdeen City Region contributes an estimated 20% of Scotland's food and drink industry output.
Meanwhile, the energy sector is still a major employer. An estimated 500,000 jobs have been created by the energy industry in and around Aberdeen, including jobs in Scotland’s world-renowned renewable energy sector.
With excellent job prospects as well as first-class education, healthcare, local amenities, and transport links, Aberdeen has one of the highest standards of living in the UK. In 2012, it was even ranked as Mercer’s 56th most liveable city in the world. More recently, in 2018, PwC’s Good Growth for Cities Index ranked Aberdeen in the top 10 UK cities to live and work.
Away from the city, you’ll also be a 15-minute drive from the stunning Aberdeenshire countryside and jaw-dropping coastal walks. And with more whisky distilleries than any other area of Scotland, it’s the ideal place for distillery scientists and Scotch connoisseurs alike.
Despite being geographically remote, Aberdeen is well connected by its transport links, including frequent trains to other British cities and regular ferries to Orkney and the Shetland Islands. Aberdeen is also globally connected: Paris and Amsterdam are only an hour’s flight away.
“Dundee is home to one of the most exciting life-sciences clusters in the UK, with world-class companies, universities, and research institutes all within a three-mile radius.”
Home to a cosmopolitan population and the only V&A Museum of Design outside of London, Scotland’s fourth-largest city is a surprising cultural and artistic heavyweight.
And with a host of leading biomedical companies calling Dundee home, this thriving metropolis is also an increasingly popular destination for STEM workers. Given that the city’s motto is “One city, many discoveries,” it’s hardly surprising to see its culture of innovation continue to flourish.
Indeed, the Tayside region has long established itself as a major centre in the digital entertainment industry, particularly in mobile app development and gaming (Rockstar North, the creator of the best-selling Grand Theft Auto video game series, was formed in Dundee). Now, it’s garnering a reputation for being a prolific life-science hub.
Currently, the city is home to 20% of Scotland’s life-science companies — despite the combined population of Dundee and the surrounding Angus region making up less than 5% of Scotland’s total. The city also hosts the Dundee Science Centre, which in 2018 received £1.5 million in funding to create "an inspiring community hub and lifelong learning resource."
Meanwhile, the surrounding Angus region, home of the eponymous Angus beef, is a major agricultural centre. 30 miles northeast of Dundee, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) also has a base in Montrose, where it is the major employer in the town. For scientists, engineers, and researchers, the area’s employment opportunities are plentiful.
Thanks to affordable housing, a healthy local economy, and a good quality of life, Dundee’s reputation is soaring. In 2015, GQ magazine named Dundee the 'Coolest Little City in Britain', while in 2018, The Wall Street Journal ranked Dundee in fifth place on its list of 'Worldwide Hot Destinations'.
If you’re looking for a blend of vibrant city living and verdant green escapism, few places in the UK can match Edinburgh. From its network of historic buildings to its one-hundred-plus parks, the captivating Scottish capital has long been a go-to destination for tourists and professionals alike. The city did inspire JK Rowling to write Harry Potter, after all.
With all the ingredients need for city living — including world-class events, international restaurants, and lively nightlife, all within walking distance from one another — it’s little wonder that Edinburgh ranks consistently high on liveability indexes.
Edinburgh is also unparalleled for employment prospects. The city is home to the highest percentage of professionals within the UK, with 43% of the population holding a degree-level or equivalent qualification. Salaries are also amongst the highest in the UK.
For scientists, it’s a great place to advance your career. In Scotland, Edinburgh is the national epicentre for scientific employment — second only to London and Greater Manchester within the UK.
The Edinburgh Science Triangle (EST), which stretches out across the wider Lothian region, is a world-class science and technology location for research, scientific convergence, and industry collaboration. Consisting of seven science parks, four universities and two leading agritech institutes, it’s one of the largest R&D clusters in Europe.
Edinburgh BioQuarter is a hub for life-science innovators, hosting twenty-five world-leading healthcare and biomedical science companies from across the globe. Altogether, BioQuarter employs 39,000 people across 750 organisations. Facilities here include the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, the Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM), and the Queen’s Medical Research Institute (QMRI).
Outside of STEM, Edinburgh is also a major centre in banking, home to the world’s largest arts festival (AKA the Fringe Festival), and in 2004 was designated the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature.
With over one million inhabitants, Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city and economic powerhouse.
Once an industrial juggernaut that used to build 20% of the world’s shipping, Glasgow has had to adapt with the times since the collapse of its shipbuilding industry.
Thankfully, the city has done so without compromising on its world-famous identity. Still a hive of economic and cultural activity, Glasgow’s music, arts, business, and sports scenes continue to shine brightly and attract ambitious professionals from all over the world.
In the STEM-related industries, Glasgow certainly gives Edinburgh a run for its money. Each year, the region’s universities teach 22,000 students in life-science subjects and produce over 5,000 first-class life-science graduates. With specialised facilities and expertise in drug discovery, bioinformatics, precision medicine, translational research, clinical trials, and pharmaceutical services, the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Valley region is rightfully earning a reputation as a leading STEM hotspot.
Indeed, with over 230 life-science companies (40% of the Scottish total and 50% of Scottish medtech companies), the Glasgow BioCorridor is undoubtedly the powerhouse of Scottish life sciences. A flurry of major manufacturing firms are also based in the city, keeping its proud tradition in the sector very much alive and kicking.
As for day-to-day living, cheaper house prices than Edinburgh and a more down-to-earth feel make Glasgow one of the most popular locations for people seeking new pastures, particularly for young professionals looking to take the next step in their career. A variety of vibrant restaurants, bars, theatres, museums, galleries, and shops all contribute to Glasgow being the fifth-most visited city in the UK.
Location-wise, Glasgow is literally at the centre of it all. The rest of the UK and Scotland is easily accessible by rail and road, while Glasgow Airport has flights to over 100 international destinations.
And if you’re looking for a counterpoint to the constant buzz of the urban area, some of Scotland’s best beaches are only an hour’s drive away, as is the awe-inspiring tranquillity of Loch Lomond. In this sense, Glasgow certainly lives up to its ‘Dear Green Place’ mantle.
Thanks to pioneering health R&D, this remote, picture-postcard city in the Highlands is fast becoming a destination of choice for adventurous scientists. With one of the fastest-growing local economies in the UK thanks to its burgeoning hi-tech and healthcare sectors, Inverness is often cited as the happiest city in the UK.
Located in the far north of Britain, Inverness has a different feel to the rest of the country — more closely resembling Trondheim or Reykjavik than Glasgow or Edinburgh. Like Aberdeen, it also sits outside of the so-called ‘Silicon Glen’; Scotland’s Central Belt of scientific industry that spans from Glasgow across to Dundee.
However, this doesn’t limit its potential for growth and innovation. By rail, Glasgow and Edinburgh can be reached in under four hours, while Aberdeen is 2-hours-and-20-minutes train ride away. By car, the Cairngorms and Loch Ness are accessible in under half an hour. The local airport also runs flights to various UK and European destinations, meaning you won’t be totally cut off from civilisation.
While city slickers may prefer the cities further south, Inverness is an ideal location for those of you looking for a somewhat detached and calmer pace of life. With the iconic Highland region — including the world-famous Loch Ness — stretching out as far as the eye can see, Invernesians have boundless opportunities to discover the magic of the great Scottish outdoors.
The best of the rest
Located in the central lowlands, the town of Falkirk sits almost exactly halfway between the powerhouses of Glasgow and Edinburgh — making both easily commutable. Closer to home, the nearby Grangemouth petrochemicals refinery employs over 1,000 people. With low house prices and a slower pace of life, Falkirk is a great option for STEM workers wanting to escape the big city.
This small city of 50,000 is a regional hub for renewable energy and manufacturing; both of which are major employers in the area. Part of Scotland’s scientific Central Belt, Perth is also a short drive away from Dundee. And with the city commonly referred to as ‘The Gateway to the Highlands’, residents are treated to miles upon miles of remarkable countryside right on their doorstep.
Described by The Guardian as “Edinburgh in miniature,” the historic centre of Stirling is another fantastic alternative to big-city living. Thanks to its strategic location — as the old saying goes, “he who controls Stirling, controls Scotland” — Stirling Castle was once the stronghold of the Scottish monarchy. While the castle still stands proud, the city is firmly embracing the 21st-century, with R&D and life science employers clustering around the University of Stirling campus.