New government money being made available to Edinburgh and South-East Scotland has given fresh impetus to building the region’s position as a centre for innovation.
The City Deal is being described as a one-off opportunity to capitalise on huge opportunities and to set new goals, not least to turn Scotland into the data capital of Europe by 2025.
Edinburgh University says its role in the £1 billion package announced last week “will be unique, challenging and far-reaching”.
It will work with partners in government, industry and other universities “to create and nurture a vibrant cluster of activity based on data science”.
Queen Margaret University in East Lothian will use the extra funding to push on with its planned Innovation Park, focused on new technologies in the food and drink sector.
It has built a reputation for market-ready research in product development and functional and healthy foods.
QMU has been a key player in transforming the food and drink sector from one deemed to have a ‘low capacity for innovation’ to a sector that now rivals oil and gas in terms of innovation led economic growth.
Principal of QMU Professor Petra Wend described the City Deal as presenting “a once in a lifetime opportunity to create significant employment and a vibrant and sustainable community”.
Edinburgh university likewise sees huge opportunities to build on the nascent technology hub that has been created around the city.
Data has become an increasingly valuable asset and a key driver of the 21st century economy.
The emerging data science sector involves the collecting, organising and interpreting of large sets of digital information. It has the potential to transform public and private organisations and drive developments that improve lives. The technologies and services behind data science could be worth $2.7 trillion by 2020, according to the International Data Corporation.
In the UK, the digital and data economy is growing two to three times faster than the economy as a whole. Early adoption of data driven innovation offers huge opportunities and may help offset the decline in some traditional sectors of the economy.
A recent Science and Innovation Audit commissioned by the UK Government recommended that with the right funding, the Edinburgh city region could become the global destination of choice for organisations that power services through the application of data science.
The audit highlighted the area’s world-class strengths in digital industries and its ability to grow high-value digital companies, such as Skyscanner and FanDuel, as a strong basis for growth.
Edinburgh university will partner with local authorities, schools and employers across the region to create “the workforce of the future” by supporting a massive increase in the provision of data skills.
It will also develop and encourage new entrepreneurs to form high growth companies, and engage with existing companies and the public sector to apply data expertise to help deliver high quality products and services.
Data science impacts on many areas of life, including health and social care, agriculture and robotics, as well as public services, finance, tourism and the creative industries.
In a statement, the university says examples of programme activity could include enhancing the experience of visitors to city festivals, and improving the local environment by capturing real-time data relating to air and water quality, noise and congestion.
It could also support new high growth areas of the economy – such as the fintech sector – through the latest research, and improve the wellbeing and care of those with long-term health problems.
Over 10 years, the University and its partners will train 100,000 people in the application of data across the region’s major industry sectors. It will work with the private and public sectors to grow awareness of data science’s implications. As it takes effect, the programme will enable both established and start-up businesses to capture these opportunities.
The DDI programme will also help people in the wider community to understand the benefits and challenges associated with the use of data, enabling them to make use of novel public and commercial services.
In Scotland, data analysis has already driven improvements in care for patients with diabetes, resulting in a 40 per cent reduction in amputation rates and blindness. In the Edinburgh city region, companies have adopted data-driven innovation, creating the third-highest density of high value technology start-up firms in the world.