The University of Lincoln, the oldest British university in the world, is in talks with some of the world’s top academics to set up a new research institute dedicated to making the university more relevant to people who live and work in developing countries.
The project is the brainchild of the Institute of Technology, which is the leading provider of university research services for developing countries, with over 10,000 researchers working in more than 300 institutions around the world.
In an interview with BBC News, Prof Paul Rowntree, a professor of computer science at the University of Liverpool and a member of the institute’s steering committee, said he believed the new research unit would provide a valuable platform to study how people around the globe are changing.
“We’ve been talking about it for a while, and we’re looking to do some work on it,” he said.
“So what we’ve been doing is going back to the basics and trying to get at what we think are the big issues, and then trying to look at where we can make a difference.”
I think it’s very exciting.
“In particular, I think it will help us get to grips with how people’s perceptions of the technology they use affect their lives, because we have to understand what they’re really doing.”
Rowntree said the project was the brain child of the Institution for Advanced Studies (IAAS) at Lincoln University, which has been looking to establish a research centre dedicated to developing technology that could help alleviate poverty in developing nations.
“If we can develop the technologies that are going to be the foundation of that centre, then that will make a real difference to people’s lives,” he explained.
“The technology itself will help with the poverty reduction, but also to have a much wider range of technologies that can be applied in a much broader range of contexts.”
The institute has also teamed up with the University College London to create the Institute for Technology, Innovation and Global Change (ITIGC) to bring together a range of technology researchers, academics and policy makers to work on a range.
“It’s a combination of everything we have going on at Lincoln,” Rowntee said.
“We have a very strong research and policy background, and so we’ve had to build a network of people who are interested in the technology that we’re building.”
For example, ITIGC aims to develop a range, such as “smart homes”, that would help improve people’s wellbeing and reduce the impact of climate change.
It’s important for people around Africa and the Middle East to understand how technology can play a role in improving their lives because technology can also improve their lives in other ways, he said, adding that Lincoln was already working with some major players in the field to help create the new institute.
“There’s a lot of money out there, so it’s quite difficult for people to get into it,” Rountree said.
“We’re looking at the most promising ideas that are around the corner, and if there’s a company out there that can do something about it, that’s something we’re interested in.”
Prof Rowntrees research on poverty reduction led him to recommend the institute as a “pioneer” of the field of research, and to help fund it.
“As the Institute is a leading provider, we will have a great advantage over any other university in terms of how we can get our work done, and our work will be of interest to people around world,” he added.
The university’s director of research and innovation, Joanne Blyth, said that while she welcomed the initiative, she did not think it would be an immediate impact on Lincoln’s research.
“This is a great start, but there are lots of great ideas in the pipeline, and it’s too early to tell whether it will really change things,” she said.
“The Institute is already leading the way in a number of other areas and we will be continuing to build on its strengths.”
However, we need to be careful that the new centre does not have the same impact as the existing research work, and that the work we do is in the public interest.
“The project will involve the Institute setting up a research team, and the establishment of a new campus and research centre, and working with the IAS to set it up.
It will also involve a number, but not all, of the existing students and staff of the university, including students in engineering, mathematics, business and public administration, and staff in health, social work and other related disciplines.
The university has also said it will invest £100,000 to support the work of the research team and establish a new institute in Kenya.