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A researchpooling partnership

N8 aims to maximise the impact of research through the identification and co-ordination of research collaboration across the North of England and beyond

The N8 Research Partnership (N8) is a group of the eight most research-intensive universities in the North of England: Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York.

Ian Smith

The N8 universities undertake more than £720m of research and employ over 8,200 academic staff. As a collaboration between eight research-intensive universities in the North of England, N8 represents a unique combination of complementary research strengths and capacity, which is of proven internationally-leading quality and is the largest ?research pooling? partnership ever undertaken in the UK.

The aim of N8 is to maximise the impact of its research capabilities on the reputation and economic standing of the North of England and the UK. This will be achieved through collaboration in a selected number of strategically important research domains at various points in the spectrum from basic research to that closely linked to the direct needs of industry or other users. Partnerships with key stakeholders will be essential for the success of these aims.

N8 and its member universities are committed to increasing not only the quantity and quality of their research, but also to achieving a step change in economic and social impact. N8 members have recognised that much more can be achieved through collaboration and that this will strengthen the UK research base.

The N8 universities are all research-intensive, but they differ in size and ambitions. Their reasons for joining N8 are varied, but they all share a common view that N8 can add value to their research and its impact. Importantly, membership of N8 is not a precursor to university mergers, nor to departmental closures. N8, unlike some other pooling exercises, is not driven by the need to protect subjects under threat. Nor does it seek to supplant existing successful collaborations between institutions.

The structure of N8 is designed to be able to access the best research capacity in already globally competitive departments and to combine it flexibly with the best available elsewhere ? in universities or other research establishments.


N8 aims to stimulate and encourage innovation of global significance. It will do this by building on existing strengths in the North and by working closely with industry in the North and beyond. Key criteria for N8 collaborations include:

  • An interdisciplinary focus based on research strengths of the North
  • Demand-led, that is, responding to global drivers
  • An ability to access funding not currently available and to promote collaboration
  • The potential to drive important international and national science and innovation agendas
  • Recognising achievement and promoting and celebrating the strengths of the North.

The N8 universities have formed a company, N8 Ltd, in order to be able to identify and co-ordinate these powerful research collaborations across the North. These collaborations will consist of networks (?virtual centres?) and/or physical centres of science and innovation excellence. The themes chosen will build on existing strengths and will have the potential for economic impact and/or social benefit. Consideration of the needs of industry and the engagement of the public will be key features of any research theme.

The board of N8 Ltd is composed of the vice-chancellors of the eight participating universities and is chaired by Professor Keith Burnett, the vice-chancellor of Sheffield University. N8 has targeted Regenerative Medicine, Ageing, Molecular Engineering, Water and Energy as its initial areas of focus to test the feasibility of the concept and its attraction to industry and to other funders of research. In each of these areas, N8 has unique research capacity, experience, impact, resource, international visibility and at least early stage commercial interest.

N8 recognises, however, that pooling science on its own is insufficient to engender the step change which we wish to see in innovation and economic and social impact.


By further developing and re-defining academic-industrial interfaces in each of the targeted areas and by working closely with government, Regional Development Agencies and their Science and Industry Councils, and other major groups (such as the NHS and Research Councils), N8 aims to provide innovative platforms for translating its research excellence into societal benefit, future industrial ?edge? and economic impact for the northern regions and for the UK. Initial funding of £6m from the Northern Way Growth Fund was agreed in March 2007 and allowed the academic directors for the five research themes (or ?virtual research centres?) to set up the centres, appoint staff and produce business plans.

N8 also aims to expand its initial five-theme portfolio to embrace other domains where, as a partnership, it believes it is also internationally leading. Throughout, it will be seeking to identify and fill the vacancies in our portfolios of basic understanding, application, innovation, technologies, services and skills to address effectively some of the major challenges facing our society. N8 will underpin the new and changing industrial base the UK needs, by helping attain the foresight, skills and competitiveness necessary for global success beyond 2010 (for example, by using molecular engineering skills to design innovative and effective nanoscale devices).

N8 recognises that it has set itself lofty ambitions and ambitious targets and has yet to achieve its transformational potential. The recent review of innovation in the North of England undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) encourages N8 to step up its activities and address longrun innovation opportunities. The OECD also provides a comparison between N8 and the Georgia Research Alliance in the US, and prompts N8 to mobilise greater levels of funding and strengthen links with the private sector.

In response to the OECD?s recommendations, N8 is currently reviewing its future plans to explore the potential for a combined approach to research opportunities around ?big science?, expand links to business, and look to develop collaborations beyond research in important themes such as training, widening participation and internationalisation. These will all add considerable value to the excellent work already taking place within each N8 institution and across the N8 Research Centres.


For more information, contact:
N8 Research Partnership
New Spring House
231 Glossop Road
S10 2GW
Tel: +44 (0) 114 222 4160

Added the 29 August 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-1

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