The UK water sector is set to benefit from new training at the University of Exeter.

Exeter to train water engineers to benefit Britain’s future

The University of Exeter is one of five leading UK universities to win a total of £5.8 million to fund a new centre to train research engineers for the UK water sector.

The engineering doctorate centre will offer 50 studentships over the next five years across the universities, including ten for Exeter.

The UK’s funding body for science and engineering, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), is investing a total of £250 million in 44 centres across the UK. It is thought the centres will generate over 2000 PhD and EngD students and tackle some of the biggest problems currently facing Britain such as climate change, energy, our ageing population, and high-tech crime.

The University of Exeter, in collaboration with Imperial College London and the universities of Sheffield, Newcastle and Cranfield, has won funding for the Skills, Technology, Research and Management (STREAM) centre. The centre will address a sector driven research portfolio and deliver an industry shaped postgraduate training programme.

Professor Dragan Savic, co-director of the Centre for Water Systems at the University of Exeter, said: “The UK water sector is entering a very interesting and important period. Over the next ten years the sector will face unprecedented challenges including flooding, problems with water supply and droughts. There is a real risk that we will not have enough people to handle this. This centre aims to train people from industry who will be the leaders in facing these challenges.”

The proposal for the new centre was drawn up with the water industry and the University of Exeter has brought a number of water companies from the region on board, including South West Water.

Part of the University’s School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics, the Centre for Water Systems conducts research into some of the most pressing issues facing society today: How can towns and cities provide clean water to an ever-growing population? In the face of climate change, how can we ensure that drought does not leave some groups short of water while others are at risk of flooding? Can water companies find new ways of dealing with water provision and sewage to reduce rising costs for consumers?

Professor David Butler, co-director of the Centre for Water Systems at the University of Exeter, added: “Since it was established in 1998, the Centre for Water Systems has brought over £4.5 million of research income into the University. With 37 researchers and support staff it has worked with companies from all over the world, including many in the south west. This award will help us to strengthen our existing links with the water industry and to play a vital role in securing a positive future for water engineering in the UK.”

EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training are a bold new approach to training PhD students, creating communities of researchers working on current and future challenges. Exeter is one of 17 new centres nationwide to be designated an ‘industrial doctorate training centre’ by the EPSRC, because its students will benefit from working closely with partners from the UK water industry throughout their doctoral training.

Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson, said: “Britain faces many challenges in the 21st Century and needs scientists and engineers with the right skills to find answers to these challenges, build a strong economy and keep us globally competitive. EPSRC’s doctoral training centres will provide a new wave of engineers and scientists to do the job. This is an exciting, innovative approach to training young researchers and will help build a better future for Britain.”

Professor Dave Delpy, chief executive of EPSRC, said: “People are the heart of our future strategy. We want to drive a modern economy and meet the challenges of tomorrow by investing in talented people and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training expand our existing training portfolio, focus on priority themes for the UK, emerging and multidisciplinary research, and greater collaboration with business.”

This approach to training has been extensively piloted by EPSRC through a small number of thriving Engineering Doctorate Centres and Doctoral Training Centres in Complexity Science, Systems Biology and at the Life Sciences Interface. This new investment builds on the success of these and will establish a strong group of centres which will rapidly establish a pre-eminent international reputation for doctoral training.

The multidisciplinary centres bring together diverse areas of expertise to train engineers and scientists with the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle today’s evolving issues. They also create new working cultures, build relationships between teams in universities and forge lasting links with industry.

Students in these centres will receive a formal programme of taught coursework to develop and enhance their technical interdisciplinary knowledge, and broaden their set of skills. Alongside this they will undertake a challenging and original research project at PhD level.

Date: 12 December 2008

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