New urban research centre to break down Big Data

The University of Glasgow has received a share of £14 million funding to create a unique facility designed to research complex and cross-cutting urban issues such as transport, employment, migration, housing, education and social exclusion and to bring a mix of expertise in the urban social sciences and the data sciences to address problems of dynamic resource management, social justice, lifelong learning and urban engagement.  

The centre will develop technologies to create a linked urban Big Data infrastructure focussed around the city of Glasgow as an exemplar, to support such research.  The project will be led by the University of Glasgow, with the Universities of Edinburgh, Cambridge, Reading, Bristol and Illinois-Chicago as partners.

Dr. Piyushimita (Vonu) Thakuriah, Halcrow Chair of Transport and Professor, Urban Studies and Affiliated Professor, School of Engineering, University of Glasgow is the Principal Investigator for the project.  She said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for researchers to analyse and mine data that has been created from a host of different public and private organisations and agencies across cities, as well as through citizen-science projects and urban infrastructure-based sensors.  Complex issues like housing, transport, social exclusion and environment need to be looked at in a broader context to come up with robust planning and policy solutions and business innovations.

“We are delighted that the ESRC has chosen Glasgow to build on the existing academic expertise that exists across a number of academic disciplines.”

The Urban Big Data Research Centre, based at the University of Glasgow, is one of three new Data Research Centres announced today the UK Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts MP that will co-ordinate research into data routinely collected by business and local government organisations.

The Data Research Centres will make data, routinely collected by business and local government organisations, accessible for academics in order to undertake outstanding research in the social sciences in ways that safeguard individuals’ identities. That research will provide a sound evidence-base to inform policy development, implementation and evaluation. This requires not just the development of a safe, secure and efficient system for linking, managing and analysing such data, founded on secure technologies, but also trust between data owners, researchers and other interested parties including the public.

The new centres, together with the Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN), will make a significant contribution to ensuring the future sustainability of UK research competitiveness; supporting the UK in maximising its innovation potential and driving economic growth.  

The UK Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts MP said: “Data is a huge priority for government as it has the potential to transform public and private sector organisations, drive research and development, increase productivity and innovation, and enable market-changing products and services. The new data research centres will help the UK grasp these opportunities and get ahead in the global race.”

Find out more

Dr Piyushimita (Vonu) Thakuriah: Research Profile

Urban Transportation Research

Transport for Future Cities

School of Social and Political Sciences

College of Social Sciences


Media enquiries: – 01413303683


Notes for editors:

  • The centres that are being established are: Urban Big Data Research Centre, at the University of Glasgow, Consumer Data Research Centre – at Leeds and UCL and Smart Analytics Data Research Centre at Essex University.  The ESRC funded UK Data Service will have a key role in supporting and co-ordinating these centres. 
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2013/14 is £212 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
  • In addition to the £14 million announced, additional funds totalling c.£14 million are being provided to these centres from other ESRC capital sources. Collectively, they will benefit from a grants package totalling approximately £28 million.
  • The ESRC's Big Data Network has been divided into three phases. In Phase 1 of the Big Data Network the ESRC invested in the development of the Administrative Data Research Network. Phase 2 is focusing primarily on business data and local government data. Phase 3 will focus on social media data and third sector data.

First published: 6 February 2014

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