Knowledge Is the Fuel for Economic Regeneration

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Byline: By Professor Phil Jones

Among the changes in the physical and economic landscape of the North-East in recent years is the growth of new business activities that can trace their development to a link with the work of universities. One of the reasons why inward investors choose to locate in the region is because of the availability of research expertise and skilled graduates.

Established businesses are expanding operations or re-styling a production process thanks to collaboration with a university research team. The latest science and business park tenants include direct spin-out companies set up by academic researchers to put their discoveries into commercial production.

Cutting edge knowledge is part of the fuel-mix of economic regeneration, along with entrepreneurship, investment and the right infrastructure. And that is where employers like Durham University have been adding increasingly to the pace and range of development in recent years.

The regional development agency One NorthEast put universities at the heart of the regional economic strategy, and successive government initiatives have been geared to improving the facilities for the best scientific strengths to grow in the region, involving more universities in partnerships with one another and with industry, commerce and public bodies.

Durham is the leading science research university in the region, based on the official UK Research Assessment Exercise ratings and a recent survey of world universities by the Times Higher Education Supplement. The university has a research income of some pounds 30m and the indicators show that Durham, for its size, is pulling above its weight. Key strengths include biotechnology, new materials, nanotechnology, chemistry, physics and the seriously high-volume computing power that lies at the heart of several e-science applications.

Durham is the location for world-class work in photonics, cell biology, molecular electronics and microsystems ( for which a new clean room was opened by Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, in October.

For 10 years, the university has been developing a substantial regional engagement and outreach mission with the help of European Structural Funds and other more recent funding initiatives, including the RDA's Single Programme. Research income is secured by competitive bidding and quality-based regimes. It also comes from research councils (allocating the government's science budget), industry, charities and overseas organisations, including major agencies such as the US National Institute of Health, which is currently investing at Durham in research into eye function and the nature of sleep.

Under the Science Enterprise Challenge, Durham hosts the North-East Centre for Scientific Enterprise to foster more entrepreneurial activity among academic research staff and in the student community. Through the Queen's Campus, Stockton, the university is part of a key strand of sub-regional redevelopment in the Tees Valley. …