Byline: JOHN HILL
AT THE end of this year, the University of Sunderland will unveil a new pounds 7.5m science facility containing pounds 1m worth of hi-tech research equipment While the shiny new space will have obvious benefits for students in the university's internationally-recognised pharmacy, pharmaceutical services, biomedical and environmental sciences fields, the institution is also stressing the need for it to pay its way.
"We're a good example of a university with a civic mission", says Professor John MacIntyre, dean of the faculty of applied sciences. "We do a lot of work with the commercial and private sector. We'll be working with regional partners to really make an economic difference."
While it's not completely business as usual at the university, research and studies are proceeding while more than 4,000 square metres of existing buildings are converted into the new science facilities. The project is expected to be finished in December. The university expects the new centre to undertake research into new drugs, therapies and health practices with practical application outside the iron gates of academia, and is looking to tackle a range of health issues affecting the region. It is part of its pounds 75m development programme, which has already seen pounds 30m ploughed into facilities such as the Murray Library and CitySpace over the past three years.
The promise of regional benefits encouraged regional development agency One North East to part-fund the project through the European Regional Development Fund.
Innovation is considered essential if the country is to relax its economic dependence on areas such as financial services. A recent report from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts said that investment in innovation and technology offered the North East its best chance of growth, and urged the Government to encourage companies to develop ideas and improve the commercialisation of university discoveries.
The focus on science is not just taking place in Sunderland. Newcastle's Centre for Life celebrated its 10th birthday last week, and city leaders also released a pounds 190m blueprint for development in Newcastle and Gateshead which aims to help build businesses and speed up the development of the Science City.
Prof MacIntyre says: "There's some world-class science in the North East. It can only be for the betterment of the region. One of the outcomes of our recent turbulent economic times is that there's been a realisation that the nation's economy needs to be based more on science and innovation technology rather than financial services, so it's really important to invest in that to give us a stronger economy going forward.
"Sometimes finding the money to spend on research and development is difficult, but a lot of companies are figuring out they need to be innovative and develop new concepts and practices to stay alive. One of the ways they can do that is to do more work in participation with universities.
"It's not going to be a slash and burn era for R&D. It might move to smaller companies working on small but innovative projects. We've seen quite a significant increase in approaches from companies, generally on specific projects."
The University of Sunderland already works with partners including Servier, Glaxo SmithKline, Evonik, Onyx and SSL International, and it is also looking to expand its provision of Continuing Professional Development programmes for NHS professionals. …