PwC Operate and NI universities join forces for innovative tech research

Through the project, Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University are developing joint research teams, creating an investment for the universities of £6.7m and an additional 38 roles.

By Claire Cartmill
Friday, 4th March 2022, 7:00 am
Updated Sunday, 6th March 2022, 10:23 am
PwC’s new office at Merchant Square is a demonstration of the firm’s confidence in the future of Belfast
PwC’s new office at Merchant Square is a demonstration of the firm’s confidence in the future of Belfast

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has signed contracts with two universities as part of a move to develop innovative technology in Northern Ireland.

The digital wing of its fast-growing Operate business, which serves clients with their operational needs, opened the £40m Advanced Research and Engineering Centre (ARC) last summer in its Belfast headquarters at Merchant Square with support from Invest Northern Ireland.

The investment is forecast to create 771 new technology and operational jobs over the next five years.

Through the project, Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University are developing joint research teams, creating an investment for the universities of £6.7m and an additional 38 roles.

Ian McConnell, lead partner for PwC Operate, said: “We’ve spent the last eight months hiring a team that’s now integrated within our Operate Digital division with roles in software engineering and other tech.

“But it was always our intention to work more closely with the fantastic universities we have here in Northern Ireland to explore their research expertise in growth areas including data analytics, AI and automation.

“When we launched the Advanced Research and Engineering Centre last year, we said it was our goal to turn amazing ideas into technology that will solve complex business problems into the next decade and beyond.

“The link up with Queen’s and Ulster universities reinforces our commitment to this investment in jobs and skills, and we’re delighted to forge these links between academia and industry here in Northern Ireland.”

Looking to the future, George McKinney, director of Technology and Services, Invest NI, explained: “We’ve been working closely with PwC in Northern Ireland for over a decade now, including support towards R&D and job creation as part of its recent Advanced Research and Engineering Centre investment.

“It is great to see this next step in its ambitious investment plans, bringing innovation at the Centre to life. This strong industry and academic collaboration showcases PwC’s confidence in the local talent in our universities.

“It will also enhance Northern Ireland’s reputation as a world leader in technology innovation and important research areas.”

Invest NI’s support is part financed by the European Regional Development Fund under the EU Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme 2014–2020.

Professor Karen Rafferty, head of school, School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Queen’s University Belfast, continued:

“We are delighted to be part of this collaboration and over many years we have seen first-hand the benefits of academia and industry joining together. Queen’s University is a powerhouse of innovation, conducting leading-edge education and research which is focused on the needs of society.

“Our partnerships with industry are vital in coming up with solutions to global problems and are key to ensuring that the next generation is prepared with all the skills necessary to enable them for the future.”

Chris Nugent, head of school of Computing, Engineering and Built Environment at Ulster University’s Belfast campus, added: “This has been an exciting and unique opportunity for Ulster University to enter into a research partnership with PwC and QUB. Three of the Schools from the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment will work together and will leverage their expertise within AI to deliver research focussed solutions to solve complex business needs. In addition, the move to our new campus in Belfast city centre will allow us to open a new dedicated collaborative research space for the ARC research team.”

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