Another major milestone has been reached in our journey towards the first City Deal for Northern Ireland.
On 26 March, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, together with Queen’s and our Belfast Region City Deal partners, approved a ‘Heads of Terms’ document confirming the commitment of £350m of UK Government investment for the Belfast region over the next 15 years. This £350m is specifically for innovation projects that will drive the economy building on our University research strengths. The ‘Heads of Terms’ also proposes that this will be matched by the Northern Ireland Executive when the devolved institutions are restored. Further investment by City Deal partners will bring the total investment package to over £1bn.
So the UK Government investment will enable Queen’s and Ulster University to collaboratively drive projects that will foster innovation in key sectors including data science, creative industries, advanced manufacturing and health.
The signing of the ‘Heads of Terms’ marks the beginning of a new phase of work to develop the City Deal which will again involve contributions from across Queen’s and multiple partner organisations. Queen’s has been asked to lead the development of the Innovation Pillar, co-ordinating the production of Outline Business Cases over the coming twelve months to secure release of the pledged government funding. Last week, I chaired the first meeting of a new Innovation Pillar Board – with membership from Queen’s and Ulster University – which will oversee this work.
In order to support this intensive phase of Business Case development, Queen’s is establishing a Programme Office to provide dedicated resource for co-ordination across five projects. Scott Rutherford, who has been involved in City Deal preparations from their inception, will lead this office.
Scott will remain as Director of Research and Enterprise but, to enable him to dedicate the majority of his time over the coming year to the City Deal, Wendy McLoone (currently Head of Research Development) and Brian McCaul (currently Director of Innovation) will jointly assume many of Scott’s Directorate leadership duties. Further support for the Programme Office will be provided by Karis Hewitt (currently Head of Research Policy) and by an external consultancy provider. Appropriate backfill arrangements will be formalised in the coming weeks.
The development of this phase of the City Deal will extend far beyond the work of this central co-ordinating office. Many colleagues across Faculties and Directorates have already played very significant roles in helping to secure government investment in the Deal and I would like to extend my thanks to everyone at the University who has contributed to this endeavour.
While the City Deal is a great example of local collaboration, I recently had the opportunity to meet with some of our international partners and collaborators on a recent visit to the USA. I spent some time in Washington, Nashville and New York meeting with various individuals and organisations, including the NI Bureau, the University of Kansas, Belmont University and Vanderbilt University. A number of key opportunities for further collaboration both in education and research, and for internships, have emerged from the visit which I will update you on as they progress.
Last week, I hosted a meeting of the Presidents and Vice-Chancellors of all the universities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. At the meeting, the universities confirmed their commitment to collaborate, on an all-island basis, around a number of research and education initiatives. This includes proposals for a new All-Ireland Doctoral Training Partnership with a focus on innovation. The ten universities will also take forward collaborations around key research themes in partnership with the CBI, IBEC, NI Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland. For Queen’s these collaborations will aim to build on the opportunities emerging from the Belfast Region City Deal and the renewed focus on developing the Belfast to Dublin Corridor.
In a previous update, I mentioned that the University has signed the Technician Commitment – a national initiative which aims to ensure visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians across all disciplines. I recently had the opportunity to meet with a number of technicians and received a helpful update on the progress that is being made in the delivery of the Technician Commitment. We talked about the support the University can offer technicians in terms of learning and development activities, in particular around professional accreditation and participation and recognition in the delivery of research and teaching.
You will all be aware that our Staff Survey has now launched. I would like to encourage you to complete the Survey and give your feedback on your working experience. The Survey will close on Thursday, 18 April.
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