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University of Ulster academics are to play a key role in a UK-wide ESRC research initiative that could lead tobetter understanding of the social, environmental and health issues affecting people’s lives in Northern Ireland.

Ulster is partneringwith QUB and the NI Statistics and Research Agency to set up theNorthern Ireland Administrative Data Research Centre (ADRC),a new £7 million research centre opening in Belfast. The project is funded by theEconomic and Social Research Council (ESRC) with additional funding for health-related research from the Health and Social Care Research and Development Division of the Public Health Agency (HSC R&D Division).

The amount of data now produced worldwide every two days is equivalent to the amount generated between the dawn of humanity and 2003.The newwill set up the infrastructure and processes that will enable researchers to analyse sub-sets or combinations of these administrative data in ways and settings that prevent the identification of individuals.

The NI ADRCwill thereforehelp researchers and policy-makers understand and capitalise on the full potential of the vast amounts of anonymisedadministrativedata that is generated by everyone in Northern Ireland every day.

Welcoming the project, Professor Hugh McKenna, Pro Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation) atthe University of Ulster, said:

“Researchers from epidemiology, engineering, social sciences and psychology at the University of Ulster are looking forwardto workingwith colleagues from QUB, NISRA and other organisationson this important initiative.This builds on our current work on big data within cloud computing and Project Kelvin.

"Having the potential to analyse a large amount of anonymised data presents an exciting opportunity for scientists in Northern Ireland to undertake research that has economic, cultural and social impact nationally and internationally.”

The new Northern Ireland Administrative Data Research Centre (ADRC) will be one of four centres across the UK and will be part of the UK Administrative Data Research Network.
Director is Dr Dermot O'Reilly of QUB.

He said: “We now live in a Big Data era. This is a very exciting opportunity to unlock the full research potential of the vast amounts of valuable and existing anonymised administrative data that is routinely collected every day.

"By joining different administrative datasets we will be able to provide a better understanding of the social, environmental and health issues that affect people’s lives and to contribute more robust evidence to inform policy development and evaluation.

"For example, from linked education, training and employment data we hope to be able to inform policymaking decisions in relation to the factors influencing social mobility.”

David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, announced the new Centre as part of a £64 million investment across the UK to strengthen the country’s competitive advantage in Big Data. He said: “Every day the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – equivalent to over 150,000 iPads worth of information.

"The power of computing in analysis of massive and mixed datasets will transform science and industry in the UK and through the creation of the Big Data network and the ADRNs, we hope to be well placed to take competitive advantage of this great technology.”