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New £12m research hub to tackle digital challenges in rural areas

The University of Aberdeen has been awarded £12.4 million of funding over five years to investigate how advances in digital technologies can transform rural communities, society and business.

The funding from the Research Councils UK's (RCUK) Digital Economy Programme, led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), is the largest single externally funded grant to be received by the University, and will create 60 new jobs and studentships.

The Rural Digital Economy Research Hub will conduct research and development into digital technologies to enhance how crucial services such as healthcare and transport are delivered in rural areas across the UK.

It will also investigate how new technologies can benefit rural economies and communities by promoting new forms of enterprise in areas such as tourism and nature conservation.

The Aberdeen Rural Digital Economy Research Hub is one of three such centres in the UK focusing on the development of digital technologies for the future.  It is the only centre to be based in Scotland 

Drawing together the University's research strengths in areas including computing science, transport, healthcare and sociology, experts from across these disciplines will work together to understand and assess digital technology requirements and  develop and evaluate solutions.

Researchers will work alongside key partners including global transport provider FirstGroup, the NHS, development and enterprise agencies across the UK, and rural business and community groups, to enable new digital technologies to be developed and then tested within real life scenarios.

The Rural Digital Economy Research Hub will also work to establish a network of academic partners at other institutions in the UK and overseas.

The Rural Digital Economy Research Hub will be based at the University's King's College Campus in Aberdeen and will have a total of 50 staff and 20 research students.

Research will be conducted around four main themes: accessibility and mobilities; healthcare; enterprise and culture, and natural resource conservation. Examples of research activity include:



This would include projects such as the use of small wireless monitoring kits, able to capture a patient's vital statistics, such as heart rate, breathing rate, temperature and body movement.  This information could be sent over a network to medical staff and emergency services.  Such devices have application in a range of scenarios, ranging  from management of elderly patients to mountain rescue. 


Professor C Duncan Rice, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen said: "This is an extremely important research award for the University and for northern Scotland, and will create 60 new posts and studentships.

"It brings together experts from different disciplines to exploit rapidly-advancing digital technology and bring economic, health, and quality of life benefits to rural communities. This will not only harness economic potential but also change in very practical ways the lives of millions of people across the UK and beyond.  

"Our scholars are to be congratulated for their success in bringing this national initiative to Aberdeen. I look forward to seeing this project develop over the months and years to come."  

Professor John Farrington of the University of Aberdeen's School of Geosciences, who will be Director of the Rural Digital Economy Research Hub, said:  "Untapped economic potential in rural areas is of crucial significance, and has been estimated at £347 billion in England alone.1 Digital technology has a key role to play in realising this potential. The Rural Digital Economy Research Hub based at the University of Aberdeen will develop advances in technology which have the potential to transform how people in rural communities live and work in the future."

Dr Peter Edwards from the University of Aberdeen's School of Natural and Computing Sciences, who will be Technical Director of the Rural Digital Economy Research Hub, said: "Our activities will build on our existing research excellence at the University in areas such as intelligent systems, novel user-interfaces and satellite and wireless broadband.  The recent Digital Britain interim report2 highlighted the importance of content and services in making digital technologies central to people's lives.  We welcome this opportunity to put rural communities and other stakeholders at the very heart of our research agenda, and to develop new software and services with them in mind."


Notes to Editors:

The Aberdeen-based Rural Digital Economy Research Hub is one of three such Hubs funded in the UK by the UK Research Council's (RCUK) Digital Economy Programme and led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Funding is for 5 years commencing October 2009.

Research Councils UK is the strategic partnership of the UK's seven Research Councils, which invest annually around £3 billion in the UK research base, covering the full spectrum of academic disciplines. RCUK optimises the ways the Research Councils work together to enhance impact of UK research, training and knowledge transfer.

The Digital Hubs are part of the RCUK's broader digital economy programme aimed at realising the transformational impact of information and communication technology for all aspects of business, society and government. The EPSRC is working closely with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to ensure the delivery of this important programme.

Digital Economy is one of the UK Research Councils (RCUK) cross-cutting research programmes. It aims to link the world-class ICT research base with the other disciplines needed to deliver its benefits and match those with a strong user pull to deliver a programme of multidisciplinary, user focused research aimed at building a base of people and expertise to put the UK at the forefront of the Digital Economy.

Digital Economy is the novel design of use of information and communication technologies to help transform the lives of individuals, society or business.



1 - England's Rural Areas: Steps to Release their Economic Potential

CRC, Cheltenham, June 2008

Foreword by Stuart Burgess Rural Advocate and Chairman, Commission for Rural Communities


2 - Digital Britain – The Interim Report (January 2009)

Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014.

Issued on: Wednesday 29th of April 2009

Ref: 128digital
Contact: Kelly Cromar

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