student gathered around a laptop, talking.

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Getting ready for a data driven future

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Data is the new currency and it’s crucial that we equip our communities to take full advantage of the opportunities it creates.

In January 2022, a volcano in Tonga erupted sending a plume of ash into the upper atmosphere. The pressure wave from the eruption circled the globe and was detected by scientists across the world. Among those to observe this major tectonic event were a group of P6 pupils at Roslin Primary School in Midlothian.

The pupils had been measuring daily air pressure in their school playground using environmental sensors provided by the University of Edinburgh’s Data Education in Schools project. The sensors are linked to a high performance computer at the University, where they are transformed into graphs and charts for pupils to analyse.

Teacher showing student small white box of environment monitor.
Teacher Liam Airley shows his student the environmental monitor.

Wide-scale project

The scheme aims to give young people the confidence, competence and ambition to use data to benefit themselves and their communities in our ever-changing digital world. Today, even more schools are taking part and by the end of this school year, we will have rolled the project out to the vast majority of the 525 school across South East Scotland, making it Europe’s largest Internet of Things network.

Data is all around us, and it’s shaping the way we live, work and engage with each other. The need to make the digital sector more accessible to more people is clear. The UK’s digital economy was worth nearly £151 billion in 2019 and has grown since. Yet only one quarter of the technology workforce in the UK is female, and only one in twenty is from an ethnic minority. People from so-called ‘working class’ backgrounds make up a third of the UK population, but account for just one in five people working in information technology.

We want to change these figures in the long term. That’s why we’re creating opportunities for everyone to improve their data skills, from early years to adult learners and including people from all backgrounds and social groups. 

This is just one of the ways we’re supporting Edinburgh’s drive to become the data capital of Europe, backed by the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. We’re delivering on our commitments to this ambitious programme through the Data Driven Innovation initiative, which has created a cluster of six hubs across the city. These include the Usher Institute, which is driving innovation in health and social care, and the National Robotarium, a partnership led by Heriot-Watt University, pioneering the development and testing of robotics and artificial intelligence.

The latest of these hubs – Edinburgh Futures Institute – will be housed in the iconic Old Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh building, which is set to fully reopen its doors in 2024 for the first time since 2003. We’re transforming this flagship listed building into a space for collaboration, education, research, and partnership, with leading edge teaching facilities, incubation areas for businesses and exhibition and performance spaces. In keeping with the motto inscribed over the building’s front entrance – “Patet Omnibus” or “Open to All” – we will be welcoming in local communities and residents as well as businesses, industry and civic partners, alongside our staff and students.

Man examines monitor at crocodile enclosure.
Adam Welsh, Head of Education at Five Sisters Zoo examines the environment monitor beside the crocodile enclosure.

Positive Impact

Contributing to the wellbeing and prosperity of our region is core to our purpose. We were founded by local people through the town council – the first university in the English-speaking world to be built on a civic foundation – and we feel a deep sense of duty to work with and for the communities we serve.

A recent independent report found that we generate £7.5 billion for the UK economy each year but our contributions run far deeper than financial benefit. We support local people’s vision for a better future, fostering deep collaborations and striving for long-term positive change. That’s why we co-created our Community Plan alongside a wide range of people and communities, to make sure we’re tackling the issues that matter to them.

Being relevant and helpful to all members of the community around us, sharing our knowledge and expertise and acting responsibly for the future of our city and planet – these are the core principles of our social and civic responsibility. Equipping the community that founded us with the skills to thrive in a data-driven world is one example of our commitment in action. 

Explore more about our digital education at Edinburgh