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£4.7 million to boost economic growth in the east of England

Universities Minister Jo Johnson has announced today (Thursday 12 October) that the Government is investing £4.7 million to grow the economy through improved productivity in the eastern region by encouraging collaboration between universities and businesses.

The Eastern Academic Research Consortium (Eastern ARC) – comprising the University of East Anglia, University of Essex and University of Kent – has been awarded £4.7 million by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to establish a network that will support business innovation in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent.

The Enabling Innovation: Research to Application (EIRA) network will build collaborations with businesses and those partnerships will collectively have access to new funding, training, networking opportunities and collaborative working space.

Prof Fiona Lettice, UEA Pro-Vice-Chancellor, said: “Universities play a key role in boosting creativity, productivity and economic growth through collaboration and innovation so that research can be effectively used and commercialised. Sharing of knowledge and good practice is vital to continue this economic advancement and we are delighted to receive this support from HEFCE to forge further working relationships and promote the benefits of collaboration across the east of England.”

Joining the universities in the network will be higher education partners Norwich University of the Arts, the University of Suffolk, Writtle University College and Harlow College. Initial partners include BT, Tech East and Agri-Tech East, South East LEP, New Anglia LEP and Digital Catapult.

Fraser Burton, Head of BT University Research, said: “BT is keen to translate research into innovation and useful products and services and we will directly support and collaborate with this initiative and advise on its future direction. EIRA’s research expertise and innovation will not only find application in telecommunications, but will prove useful for many diverse areas of the digital economy, especially in the east of England.”

The funding has been allocated from the £20 million first round of HEFCE’s Connecting Capability Fund which supports universities in working together and with external partners to commercialise research, and contributes to the delivery of the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

Eastern ARC’s EIRA network project was one of just four major projects awarded funding in the first round.

Vanessa Cuthill, Director of the Research and Enterprise Office at the University of Essex which is leading the project on behalf of Eastern ARC, said: “We have world leading research in the east of England across our higher education sector, but the region scores lower than the UK average for productivity and growth.

“This network aims to change this by harnessing the resources of regional universities and connecting businesses with our expertise, particularly across the areas that Eastern ARC specialises in – artificial intelligence, agri-tech, and digital creative.”

Professor Anthony Forster, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex said: “We’re determined to put our research into action to help drive growth in the region and support innovation in businesses.

“This new funding will allow us to transform the relationship between universities and the private sector to deliver on the huge potential of the eastern region by sharing knowledge and expertise.”