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"Transformative" new technology hub in Martlesham could open by the new year

A CGI image of how the DigiTech Centre could look. Picture credits: BT/University of Suffolk

A new industry-leading digital technology hub for students and apprentices is set to open its doors by Christmas, project bosses have said.

The University of Suffolk and BT have teamed up to launch the DigiTech Centre at Martlesham’s Adastral Park, which will be used for university students and graduates, BT apprentices and companies to help train future industry professionals.

The £9.6million project, which has the backing of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership to the tune of £6.5m and the blessing of East Suffolk Council’s planning team, will feature top artificial intelligence systems, a forensics lab and smart living test facility.

The centre’s headquarters will be in BT’s Oberon building, with contractors carrying out revamp work there over the summer ahead of a planned Christmas opening.

The first cohort of university students and BT apprentices are expected to begin using the space from January.

(The new DigiTech Centre could be open to the first cohort of students from January 2021. Picture credits: BT/University of Suffolk)

Professor Nicholas Caldwell, professor of information systems engineering, said: “It’s a partnership project that provides a 21st Century centre for teaching digital skills and courses for the benefit of everyone in the region.

“It provides a venue not just for students who want to get degrees but also a venue for continuing professionals’ development or people who are already in employment.

“We have an opportunity to build something beyond what the university could do this quickly.”

Once fully up and running, the centre will be used by around 500 students and 145 apprentices each year, with students splitting their time between Adastral Park and the Waterfront campus.

Course leaders are already working on a tie-up with police forces in the region to develop cyber-security and forensics training, but will also be used by wildlife and ecology students to study environment conditions, as well as those on the university’s other ICT courses. A brand new AI and data science course will also be launched there.

Once completed, it will be one of only a handful of universities globally to have the direct backing and link with one of the world’s top communications companies, set to help attract students from far afield.

It is also set to provide a big boost to the region as a whole.

Lisa Perkins, Adastral Park research realisation director with BT, said: “If this is as successful as we hope it will be, it could be absolutely transformative. What we can offer for the region is a massively differentiated offering from an academic perspective, in the environment of business.

“We have massive ambitions across the east to be that leading ICT innovation hotspot. We have all the ingredients to make that happen.

“Not only will our future technologists benefit, our companies will benefit, we will create new businesses from graduates setting up their own start ups. It is developing technologists for the future, growing the businesses and supplying them with the talent they need. It is all opportunity rich for the region and the whole supply chain that co-exists with that should benefit as well.”

It follows on from BT’s existing tie-up with the university which features students working on real-world problems brought to them by companies in the Martlesham Innovation block, and the company’s school outreach programme from which 80% of the firm’s apprentices come from.

DigiTech project manager Will Pryke added: “The focus of this centre is really to accelerate what happens with BT, and is now materialising in this centre which brings together the commercial side and research side from BT, the wider partnership of smaller businesses on site and off, and the academic degree and further research. It is bringing that all together in one catalyst pot and that is really going to accelerate the capability in the region.”

The university is hosting a virtual open day on Saturday, June 27. Visit the website to find out more.

Local Democracy Reporter Service reporter, Jason Noble

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