UCL banks on Suffolk park life

University College London is to open a multimillion pound advanced research and postgraduate centre in information and communications technologies in Suffolk next spring.

UCL@Adastral.Park is funded in part by BTexact, the telecom company's new advanced communication technologies business. The centre is being built at the company's technology park at Martlesham, near Ipswich.

Stewart Davies, managing director of BTexact, believes it is the first time a university in the United Kingdom has co-located high-tech research facilities on an external corporate site. "It's certainly the first redbrick university in Suffolk," he said. "This is a breakthrough in academic-industry links, a seismic shift in postgraduate culture. It will open the door to the influx of high-calibre graduates to the company, partners and the region."

UCL@Adastral.Park will get about £1.5 million a year from BTexact for the next five years. It will work closely with technology companies in the Cambridge-Ipswich "high-tech corridor". Agilent Technologies, Corning and Marconi are negotiating research deals and discussions are under way with several other global IT and telecoms companies.

John Midwinter, head of the optical networks group in the department of electronic and electrical engineering, said that up to 45 research students, fellows and other academic staff would eventually be based at the centre.

Projects in his department and the department of computer science would form the core of UCL's activities at Adastral Park, known as BT Laboratories until last June when BT reorganised, creating BTexact and other business units.

The electronic and electrical engineering department received the highest rating (5*) for research quality and strength in the 1996 research assessment exercise.

The department has created multidisciplinary research groups in electronic circuit systems, electronic material devices, microwave radar optics, optoelectronic and optical networks and telecommunications.

The equally highly rated department of computer science specialises in networks, distributed systems, multimedia, virtual reality, vision, intelligent systems and software engineering.

John O'Reilly, professor of telecommunications in the department of electrical and electronic engineering, said that the long-term relationship between the university and the company would ensure staff and students at the park would not be isolated.

UCL has been at the centre of many breakthroughs in ICTs and tops the university league table for highest research income. UCL@Adastral.Park aims to be a national centre of excellence for research and its direct application to commercial projects.

Initial work is likely to cover internet protocol evolution for next generation networking, lightwave-enabled multiservice networks, broadband wireless/mobile systems and networks, and facilitating creation and manipulation of multimedia content.

Mr Davies said: "Postgraduate research is crucial to telecoms, IT and new media. This collaboration is a key mechanism through which our leading-edge research will be carried out and its benefits brought to market faster than ever before."

Chris Llewellyn-Smith, provost at UCL, said: "The Adastral Park site has a long history of important communications research. By setting up a facility there, we can expand our range of research programmes and further satisfy the growing need for very high-tech training. The benefits of this new facility, both regional and national, cannot be understated.

"UCL has been a pioneer in fostering innovative partnerships with industry and this unique collaboration is further proof of the high regard in which it is held."

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