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Universities unite in South West

Press release issued: 28 July 2005

A ground-breaking £14 million partnership has been formed to boost research in areas of vital economic importance to the region.

£14 million research collaboration

South West Universities, with the South West of England Regional Development Agency and HEFCE, have formed a ground-breaking £14 million partnership to boost research in areas of vital economic importance to the region.

A total of 145 new researchers are to be appointed in areas ranging from nanotechnology and economic psychology to sustainable development and advanced engineering.

Called 'Great Western Research', the project is led by and will be run through Exeter University on behalf of its lead partners, Bristol and Bath universities, and the other ten South West higher education institutions. It is the first step in a much wider plan to create a regional research alliance. Funding for the project comes from the South West of England Regional Development Agency (South West RDA), the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), businesses and the universities themselves.

Professor Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol said: 'This radical strengthening of regional alliances will broaden and deepen the academic experience for staff and students across a range of key disciplines.'

Professor Steve Smith, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter, said today: 'This is great news for the South West. It will enable universities to collaborate on research which is both of international quality and important for the future prosperity of the region. Universities have, of course, often worked together in the past, but this project signals a step change in the degree of collaboration. We believe we can do a much better job for the region if we pool our strengths and develop joint projects. This is turn will enable the region's businesses to be a step ahead of the competition.'

Stephen Peacock, Director of Enterprise and Innovation for the South West RDA commented 'The South West RDA is pleased to support the region's businesses to participate in this innovative project. Collaborative R&D between Higher Education Institutions and businesses is traditionally low in the South West compared with other regions. The increase in research relevant to industry in the South West's priority sectors and the greater number of well trained postgraduate researchers employed in the region will stimulate innovation in the businesses involved.'

Professor Glynis Breakwell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath, said: 'The research undertaken by the South West's universities plays a critical role in strengthening the regional economy. We need to bolster our existing areas of economic strength and develop new areas. GWR will help to do this by providing a platform for concentrated research collaboration, generating the advanced level knowledge and individual expertise required for the South West to be internationally competitive. This development represents real progress for both universities and businesses in the South West.'

The five collaborative research areas are:

  • South West Materials Research Consortium, focusing on the development of nanoparticles and nanocomposites, biomaterials, graphics and carbon, joining and bonding, sensors and actuators and high band semiconductors and devices. It is of particular importance to the aerospace industry.
  • South West Applied Mathematics and Earth Systems Analysis Programmes, concentrating on nanomathematics to support the emerging nanotechnology and nanoscience revolution and (in collaboration with the Exeter-based Met Office) earth system analysis and prediction.
  • South West Sustainability Programme, which is comprised of sustainable energy technologies, policy and regulation, sustainability and business, comparative sustainable development and transport technologies. Businesses will increasingly have to develop sustainable methods of operating and developing this research area will help local firms to develop a leading edge.
  • South West Cognitive Neuroscience and Economic Psychology Research Programme. Areas of research excellence exist in Exeter, Bristol and Bath and the bid will more than double the number of PhD students. This will help make the South West a major centre for postgraduate training.
  • South West Creative Arts Programme. The creative industries are of particular importance to the South West given its economic reliance on the tourism and leisure interest. The programme will develop new initiatives in areas such as theatre, literary and film history, representation and creation of folk customs and giving voice to the marginalized (immigrants, minorities and hybrid identities).

The 145 researchers comprise 15 postdoctoral Research Fellows and 130 Postgraduate Research Studentships, which will be awarded to meet industry needs. A South West Postgraduate Training Network will be established. This will provide collaborative high-level training and new training space for future research professionals who will be needed in knowledge intensive industries such as industry research and development.

The universities and businesses will provide around £3 million of funding each for the five-year project, with HEFCE and the South West RDA contributing approximately £4 million each. The project will begin in October 2005 with the appointment of a project director. It will run through until 2010.

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