A new £9.6m digital skills training centre designed to provide “a rich pipeline of new technology talent” is on schedule to open in January.

The DigiTech Centre, a collaboration between the University of Suffolk and BT and supported financially by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, will provide training in cutting-edge digital skills for people looking to pursue careers in the information and communications technology sector.

The aim is that the stream of highly qualified potential employees coming out of its doors will fuel tech businesses nationwide.

Prof. Nicholas Caldwell, professor of information systems engineering at the University of Suffolk, said: “This partnership project provides a 21st century centre for teaching digital skills and courses for the benefit of everyone in the region.

“It provides a venue not just for students who want to get degrees, but also for continuing professional development and people who are already in employment – the centre is in the heart of the Innovation Martlesham cluster of 140plus high-tech companies with unparalleled opportunities for co-operation at every level.

“We are amongst just a handful of universities globally to have the direct backing and link with one of the world’s top communications companies in BT. We expect this will help to attract students from far and wide.”

The centre will be part of the Innovation Martlesham technology cluster at Adastral Park, home of BT Labs and a further 130 companies.

The hub of BT’s global Research and Development arm, Adastral Park, on the outskirts of Martlesham near Ipswich, was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1975.

Last December, Princess Anne gave the royal seal of approval to the new DigiTech Centre when she visited Adastral Park to take a look at the plans.

The centre will house not only to Suffolk University’s ICT and Digital Creative courses, but also a range of new and innovative courses in emerging technological disciplines, such as telecoms and future networks, artificial intelligence, data science and software defined systems, cloud computing and all aspects of smart metrology, testing and verification.

Specialist high tech laboratories will form the heart of the new centre, to be used jointly by university staff, students and businesses at Adastral Park and, indeed, from across the region.

Prof. Tim Whitley, Managing Director of Research at BT, said: “This new centre will create a rich pipeline of new technology talent, powering the East of England’s growing reputation as an ICT powerhouse, and fuelling the growth of innovative businesses across the UK.

“We’re delighted to be working with the University of Suffolk and the New Anglia LEP to embed the Digitech Centre at the heart of the Innovation Martlesham technology cluster, to create a rich ecosystem for growth in digital innovation.”

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership has supported the development of DigiTech to the tune of £6.5m.

Chair Doug Field said the centre would give East Anglia’s growing ICT ecosystem a significant boost, not least because it would provide a collaborative space in which firms could improve and develop their own IT systems.

“It will assist productivity in sectors which use ICT as a key enabler, hugely increase the capacity of the University of Suffolk’s School of Science, Technology and Engineering, and double the number of apprenticeships available,” he said.

“Adastral Park is a world-leading ICT cluster and by investing in this and other projects, the Local Enterprise Partnership can help to provide the infrastructure, skills and innovation needed to supercharge our economy.”

DigiTech will ultimately play host to around 500 students and 145 apprentices each year, with students slitting their time between Adastral Park and Suffolk University’s Waterfront Campus.

It is expected that BT’s global standing will attract students and trainees to DigiTech from all over the world.

Lisa Perkins, BT Adastral Park and Research Realisation Director, said: “Adastral Park is already home to cutting edge technology research and innovation, for BT and the Innovation Martlesham cluster, and this will be strengthened further by the addition of the new DigiTech Centre.

“This is an important collaboration with our partners and I believe it will have a major beneficial impact for East Anglia, both in terms of contributing to the regional economy and enhancing the area’s reputation as a source of world-class talent in the fields of technology and research.

“The new centre will provide exciting career opportunities for apprentices and graduates and create a pipeline of new technologists for BT. In turn, it will also lead to a talent pool for local companies and the development of new start-up businesses.

“The DigiTech centre will offer training in areas of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing and data science; technologies that will have an enormous impact on the way we all live, work and play in the future.”

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