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City Region Deal to benefit the whole community

July 2017 saw the University sign what could be one of the most significant and transformational events in its 435-year history, the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

Ariel view of Queensferry Crossing and Forth Bridges
The City Region Deal will transform Edinburgh and the surrounding area © Getty Images

The £1.1 billion deal will fund major infrastructure projects in the city, as well as in the Lothians, Fife and the Scottish Borders, with investment coming from the Scottish and Westminster governments and partners in local government and higher education.

Driving data innovation

The University is leading the City Region Deal's exciting Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) progamme, with the aim of capitalising on the region’s rich seam of informatics, business and research expertise to make it the data capital of Europe. By developing clusters of activity based upon data science – the collection, organisation and interpretation of large sets of digital information – the University will be key to achieving the City Region Deal’s goal.

The deal will be transformational for both the University and the community, leading to new training and skills development, hundreds of spin-out and start-up companies, and tens of thousands of jobs over the next 15 years.

“In many ways, the University is the glue that holds the whole thing together,” says Senior Vice-Principal Charlie Jeffery, who represented the higher education sector in the negotiations. “We have a vision and capacity for technological innovation that can change and drive the economy.”

Research with impact

In social sciences, we spend a lot of time thinking about the most effective interventions for improving society – this offers a chance to find out whether we are right about those ideas. Helping society is an important part of the University’s mission.

Professor Judy RobertsonChair of Digital Learning

Professor Judy Robertson, Chair of Digital Learning, says working on the City Region Deal’s Skills Programme is an unprecedented opportunity to undertake large, long-term research projects that allow us to test our ideas more thoroughly:

“The scale of the DDI Programme is phenomenal. In contrast to the usual research projects, I’ll be working over 15 years with teams of people across 527 schools in all of the six local authorities surrounding the University. One of the most interesting development opportunities is to test ideas in the real world. In social sciences, we spend a lot of time thinking about the most effective interventions for improving society – this offers a chance to find out whether we are right about those ideas. Helping society is an important part of the University’s mission.”

The University is dedicated to data innovation in both teaching and research. For example, it is home to Europe’s highest-ranking School of Informatics (see our Edit supplement on History Makers: Informatics). Its world-class research in robotics, computer science and artificial intelligence has spawned some 100 companies in recent years.

Improving services and care

More sophisticated use of data allows better understanding and prediction of trends and behaviour, leading to improved services. One example of this can be found in our researchers’ work with diabetes patients at the University’s Usher Institute. Experts used vast data sets to ensure patients receive the best possible care at all points of contact within the NHS in Scotland, and their work has significantly reduced the disease’s harshest effects: blindness is reduced by 40 per cent and amputations by 42 per cent.  

Another example can be found in the Business School’s collaboration with engineering group Costain to lower carbon emissions and improve health and safety in the infrastructure sector. Using expertise across academic fields, data-driven innovation has facilitated use of robotics technologies in harsh construction environments, and demonstrated that the distances covered by site vehicles could be reduced by up to 80 per cent through combining GPS and on-board diagnostics data.

Boosted by the City Region Deal, these existing data science practices and predictions will be scaled up and new ones developed. The process will change the University at both an operational and cultural level, with an emphasis on three main areas – outward-looking researchers, talent generation, and industrial and public sector partners.

Transforming Edinburgh

The deal will facilitate these three areas by investing in major capital projects that will give a home to researchers, students and industries working on data-driven innovation. A key element fo this will be the Bayes Centre, which will house computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians and industry colleagues working on fundamental computer and data science. Major partners such as Intel and Silicon Graphics are already lined up to move in to the building, on its completion in 2018. 

In 2021, the Edinburgh Futures Institute will take up residence in the former Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh building, and will pioneer how data can be used in the financial sector, tourism, festivals and the creative industries, as well as the public sector. 

The Usher Institute – working on health and social care data to improve care – currently exists virtually but the City Region Deal will give it physical walls. 

 

Artist's impression of how the redeveloped the former Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh building will look
The proposed redevelopment of the former Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, which will be home to the Edinburgh Futures Institute

 

The National Robotarium – a partnership with Heriot-Watt University – will drive advances in robotics and autonomous systems, while staff at the University’s Easter Bush campus will work with genetic data to improve the supply and wellbeing of livestock. 

View over the Easter Bush campus to the Pentlands
Easter Bush campus and the Pentland Hills © Andrew Smith SG Photography

 

Skills for life for everyone

This can’t just be growth that simply benefits those who were already doing well. It must be growth that is available to all.

Senior Vice-Principal Charlie Jeffery

The City Region Deal will further generate talent through lifelong education in the skills needed for the data-driven economy, a sector that could be worth $2.7 trillion in 2020, according to the International Data Corporation. 

Three school pupils wearing augmented reality goggles at their PCs
School students trying out augmented reality goggles © iStock

“This can’t just be growth that simply benefits those who were already doing well,” states Professor Jeffery. “It must be growth that is available to all. We have developed a strong emphasis on inclusion, making sure everyone across the region has a chance to develop those skills.”

The demand for workers with digital skills in Scotland is 11,000 a year. However, only 4,000 a year are currently being produced. The University is working to ensure that the opportunities of the data-driven economy are available to everyone, at all stages of their career. 

“We are looking at skills for the data economy across the life-course,” explains Professor Jeffery. “We are looking at everything: how to adapt teacher training from primary school upwards; resources for primary and secondary schools; new forms of cooperation with colleges and other universities; and new ways of supporting on-the-job retraining and upskilling.” 

“In a sense, the City Region Deal is an opportunity to renew that civic tradition on which the University was founded,” says Professor Jeffery. “This university has been in the city, doing great things, for several hundred years combining our strengths with that of the region, to create something new, something very valuable. The City Region Deal has the potential to be one of the landmarks in that centuries-long history.”

 

To find out more about the City Region Deal and the DDI Programme as it develops, don’t miss your 2018 edition of Edit in print, or online at edit.ed.ac.uk