UNIVERSITY Minister Chris Skidmore praised the research and innovation taking place at Durham University – from the development of an autonomous car to a hi-tech spin on the blackboard – during a visit yesterday.

Mr Skidmore saw examples of research, innovation and new technology being developed at Durham University.

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He was shown an autonomous vehicle currently in development at the University’s Department of Computer Science and visited the Teaching and Learning Centre, a new £40 million complex opened in September which houses state-of-the-art educational facilities.

Mr Skidmore tried digital learning tools being trialled in its Education Laboratory, including virtual reality headsets which allow multi-location teaching, and Learning Glass, a technology which allows lecturers to write notes onto a screen while maintaining face-to-face contact with students.

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The Minister also held talks with the university’s vice-chancellor and leaders of the TechUp project, co-founded by technology evangelist Professor Sue Black, which offers women in the North and Midlands the opportunity to retrain for employment in the technology sector.

Mr Skidmore said the visit was “really inspiring”.

He said: “I always relish the opportunity to speak directly to the students to see how inspiring some of the learning opportunities are for them and how it can transform their lives.

“Universities have been established their local communities for decades, if not centuries when it comes to Durham, and we need to build upon that.”

He made a speech to more than 100 staff, students and leaders from business, industry and the public sector, in which he emphasised the importance of investment in research and development in the North-East.

Mr Skidmore spoke about “levelling up” research and development so that it benefits every corner of the UK and challenged universities: “Just how far does your imagination stretch?”

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Vice Chancellor Professor Stuart Corbridge said: “Durham University is a place where we offer the inspiration and our researchers, students and partners achieve the extraordinary.

“We are proud to be a North East University and Durham’s University, and of the positive contribution we make to our region, City and the UK including through our world-leading and world-changing research.

“We were pleased to welcome the Universities Minister to Durham show him just a few of examples of how innovations that began here are supporting the regional economy and, as a result, benefitting our local communities.

"We agree with the Minister that investment in research and development in the North East is crucial and we look forward to working with him and colleagues in Government to ensure that this is encouraged and innovation is supported.”

Among the guests for Mr Skidmore’s speech was Arnab Basu, Chief Executive of Kromek Group, which is based at NETPark, in Sedgefield, County Durham, and supplies radiation detection technology for the medical, security screening and nuclear markets.

Kromek was formed in 2003 to exploit technology developed at Durham University’s Department of Physics, where Mr Basu completed his PhD.

Mr Basu said: “Kromek started as a spin out from Durham University in 2003 and we continue to work closely with the University at many levels. Over the recent years we have particularly focussed on collaborations in the area of data and computing involving machine learning and artificial intelligence. We consider the University to be an important partner as we continue to develop world-class technology solutions for our customers around the world.”

Simon Henig, Leader of Durham County Council, was also present. The University and Council have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work together to raise the national and international profile of County Durham and Durham University with governments, businesses and others to attract talent, money and business and benefit local communities.

Councillor Henig said: “We are committed to creating an environment in County Durham where innovation is nurtured, businesses prosper, and people at all stages of their careers can excel. This would not be possible without forward-thinking organisations like Durham University. Together, we have made great strides in retaining talent in County Durham and showcasing the region as a great place to live, work, study and visit.

“From our world-leading science park NETPark, to the support we offer to new businesses through the Durham City Incubator, to our internationally recognised culture programme – this is a partnership that is delivering real results.

“I hope what the Universities Minister has seen in Durham will encourage him to lobby the Government for further investment in our region.”

Kath Heywood works at Durham University and has just graduated from the TechUp programme. After meeting Mr Skidmore, she said: “I am already applying some of the skills I have gained through TechUp, as my role is always evolving as I have work with more and more data, so my effectiveness at work has improved. My peers are reporting job interviews, industry shadowing opportunities and several are starting up new businesses. Even my children have raised aspirations, having seen me get so much from the TechUp experience, so the benefits clearly go far beyond those of us on the programme.”