North bids for £100m to beef up industry ties

Universities in the north of England are bidding for a share of £100 million of government funds to extend research collaboration and links with industry in key areas they say are ripe for development, writes

The N8 group, made up of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York universities, is pitching for pump-priming investment from Northern Way, an initiative aimed at tackling the wealth divide between the North and South of the country.

The group wants to establish collaborative networks between universities, regional development agencies and local industry to support large-scale research projects in the fields of energy, ageing and health, sustainable water use, molecular engineering and nanotechnology, and regenerative medicine.

The N8 group hopes to receive positive feedback to its proposal from a Northern Way summit being held in York next Tuesday.

David Secher, N8's new chief executive and a former Cambridge University research director, told The Times Higher this week that the group had chosen to focus on the five areas because its member institutions had a strong research base in these fields.

He said: "If we are going to make progress, we have to think large. The idea of big science is familiar to us from areas such as physics and astronomy, but in recent years we have made big strides in areas such as biology.

"We believe it is essential that large research projects in the areas we are focusing on are done in new collaborations between industry, Government and universities."

Dr Secher, who has been in post for just a month, said the project was his top priority.

He acknowledged that competitive pressures such as the forthcoming research assessment exercise could work against collaboration, but said his own soundings had found "huge enthusiasm" for the project among academics as well as university managers.

"We are already getting unsolicited proposals for large-scale collaborations," he said.

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