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Derry’s £250m City Deal is a shot in the arm for the northwest

A new School of Medicine plus AI and robotics research centres will transform the region

The city of Derry is to benefit from the establishment of a new School of Medicine, as well as a number of other very important strategic projects, as part of the £250 million Derry and Strabane City Deal. City deals are a mechanism devised by the UK government to transform regional economies for the widest possible societal benefit.

As a partner in the City Deal, Ulster University is contributing four innovative projects in a range of areas including personalised medicine, robotics, artificial intelligence and doctor training at the new School of Medicine.

The Cognitive Analytics Research Laboratory (Carl) is a new cutting-edge applied research centre that brings together data analytics and artificial intelligence expertise.

Funded by the Inclusive Future Fund (IFF) within the City Deal, the Transformation Healthcare Research Innovation Value-based Ecosystem (THRIVE) aims to embed world-class medical research in the heart of the community. It will create a new healthcare quarter on the Strand Road in Derry with the development of a Healthcare Research Institute (HRI) and the expansion of the existing Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC) at Altnagelvin Hospital.



Described as a game-changer for the region, the IFI-funded School of Medicine will train new doctors and help to address the ongoing medical workforce shortage in Northern Ireland generally and the northwest region in particular.

“There is only one medical school in Northern Ireland, in Queen’s,” says Dr Louise Dubras, foundation dean of the new School of Medicine. “It’s a very fine medical school but, according to UK General Medical Council, 40 per cent of its graduates remain within 10 miles of where they trained. It’s nobody’s fault but we haven’t been able to train up doctors to work in the northwest.”

The new school will be different in nature to the one at Queen’s. “It’s more akin to the University of Limerick model,” she explains. “It will be a four-year graduate entry programme. Students can have a degree in any subject – it doesn’t have to be in a bioscience area.”

The new school will open its doors to its first cohort of students in August. "We have run two waves of applications. We ran one last October and we are running another this month with a deadline of March 15th. Anyone with a GAMSAT [Graduate Medical School Admissions Test] score is eligible to apply." (Ulster.ac.uk/medicine)

CIDRA’s primary aim is to act as a support centre for advanced manufacturing industry, according to Martin McGinnity, professor of intelligent systems at the School of Computing, Engineering and Intelligent Systems at Ulster University’s Magee Campus in Derry. “A major issue for manufacturing companies at the moment is industry 4.0. A number of technologies including AI, robotics and automation, IoT and 3D printing have all come to a certain stage of maturity in the last decade, and that is changing how manufacturing works.”


That’s where CIDRA comes in. “Companies need to engage with digital technologies if they want to remain competitive,” says McGinnity. “But they don’t know where to start, they don’t have the expertise. We will provide that expertise. We will have a demonstration centre for robotics and automation, and we will show companies how to extract and acquire data and extract value from it during the manufacturing process.”

Attracting new industry to the region is also part of its mandate. “Decades ago, Derry was famous for shirt-making and textiles. The bulk of that is gone and it needs to be replaced with competitive and world-leading manufacturing industry. We need to protect what we have and expand it by becoming more competitive. We will support existing industry and attract new investment to the region.”

“The Derry and Strabane City Deal has the potential to bring an additional 7,000 jobs to the region by 2032 and lever hundreds of millions in investment over the next decade,” says Derry City and Strabane District Council chief executive John Kelpie. “This transformative plan will grow our digital capabilities to support economic investment and regeneration as well as boosting tourism and culture in our walled city. We are delighted to collaborate with Ulster University to grow our city region’s reputation as a hub for innovation and health and life sciences. We are about to embark on an exciting journey with local partners including Ulster University, the Western Health and Social Services Trust, North West Regional College and C-TRIC. As the fourth-largest city on the island of Ireland, the City Deal investment puts us in a prime position for a buoyant new future that will allow us to play our part in an entire-Ireland economy that everyone can benefit from.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times