The University of Edinburgh has launched a new institute that seeks to address some of society’s most pressing concerns, after receiving a £10 million gift from an anonymous donor.
The Edinburgh Futures Institute will aim to tackle major issues within three broad areas: the economy, creative industries and education, and societies.
Research will include topics such as how disciplines such as theology can help to tackle climate change, what business management can do to alleviate the refugee crisis and how design informatics can tackle inequality.
The £10 million donation – the largest ever capital gift to the university – will partially fund the restoration of Edinburgh’s 23,000m2 former Royal Infirmary, which is now part of the city’s Quartermile development and will be the home of the institute.
Some of the institute’s activities will begin in 2019, but the restored building, which has been empty since 2003, will open in 2021 and is set to become one of the largest centres for interdisciplinary learning and research in Europe.
Paolo Quattrone, dean of special projects at the university, said that the institute will hire a team of academics and administrative staff and will combine teaching, research, entrepreneurship, and partnerships with industry, governments and the third sector.
The institute, which will be open to the wider public, will also showcase the institution’s leading work in data science, by collecting, organising and interpreting large sets of data on the broad research areas. The university said that it hopes it will play an important part in making Edinburgh and its surrounding area “the data capital of Europe”.
“The university decided not to do something quite conventional but to use this opportunity to really take seriously the challenges that contemporary times create for us,” Professor Quattrone said, citing disruption caused by technological innovation, capitalism, and the fragmentation of the finance industry.
“Through this project we are also trying to understand what a university as an institution will look like in the 21st century.”
The building will also host a new undergraduate programme in data management and values, which Professor Quattrone likened to a “reinterpretation of PPE [politics, philosophy and economics] for the 21st century”, and an undergraduate programme in global studies.
There will also be a new master’s programme with three pathways, that will be “interdisciplinary, problem-led, research-led” and include blended learning, he added.
The institute will include a public piazza, garden spaces and a large space for events and lectures.