The UK government has joined forces with Newcastle University to set up a £30m centre for big data. Half the money will come from each party.
The centre, whose funding was confirmed today (14 September 2017) by minister for digital Matt Hancock, is tasked with joining up academics with IT suppliers and the public sector. Its goal is to solve “real-world problems using advances in data science”.
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The National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) is said to be part of the UK government’s “digital strategy”, aimed at boosting the “nation’s digital skills, infrastructure and innovation, including measures to support Britain’s … artificial intelligence (AI) sector”.
The Newcastle-based centre is being trumpeted as part of the “northern powerhouse”. The phrase is associated with George Osborne, who was sacked by prime minister Theresa May as chancellor of the exchequer in the wake of the Brexit vote in June 2016. Osborne, now editor of the Evening Standard newspaper, was an advocate of big data during his time in government. He it was who announced funding for what became the Alan Turing Institute in his budget in March 2014.
“NICD will help to address the data skills gap by taking a practical hands-on approach,” said Nick Wright, pro-vice-chancellor for innovation and business at Newcastle University. “We will work with organisations on their domain-related problems, transferring the skills into the organisation that will enable them to innovate through data.”
The £15m funding from government, managed through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will be matched by £15m from Newcastle University.
Newcastle University already has a Cloud Innovation Centre, and hosts the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Cloud Computing for Big Data.
As a city, Newcastle plays host to a number of IT software and services suppliers, such as Sage, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Accenture, which has links to the university. The city also houses HMRC’s Digital Delivery Centre.
Speaking at a “Data skills for the future” conference today at Nesta – formerly the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts – Hancock said: “We’re determined to unlock the huge potential of big data, which could add billions of pounds to our economy – from powering price comparison sites to improving the flow of transport around cities.”
He continued to say the centre would make sure data science skills being developed in universities carry over into industry and the public sector.
“It will not only spark innovation among the next generation of tech experts, but also help businesses across the whole country capitalise on the immense value of data,” said Hancock.
The centre, it is said, will carry out projects where “academics and industry can share and develop their data skills to solve challenges”, such as predictive maintenance.