Students Staff

10 October 2013

Essex receives £5 million for new Big Data Network centre

David Willetts MP

David Willetts MP made the announcement at the Mountbatten Memorial Lecture

David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, yesterday announced plans for a Big Data Network which includes almost £5 million for the UK Data Service at the University of Essex to form a new service for streamlining research access to data collected by government departments and other agencies.

The money, awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will allow Essex’s data experts to ensure that researchers across the country can effectively and securely access large datasets for research that will directly influence policy and ultimately benefit the public.

Speaking at the Mountbatten Memorial Lecture at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Mr Willetts outlined the ESRC’s vision for a network of innovative data centres across the UK which will strengthen the country’s competitive advantage in Big Data.

At the heart of the project will be the new Essex-led Administrative Data Service (ADS), jointly formed with the Administrative Data Liaison Service, which is currently managed by the University of St Andrews. The ADS infrastructure will provide a one-stop-shop for finding, learning about, and requesting access to administrative data for research.

Melanie Wright, Principal Investigator of the new ADS and Associate Director of the UK Data Service, explained the importance of yesterday’s announcement: “Research access to administrative and linked data holds enormous potential – for researchers, for government, and for the people of the UK. You cannot make or evaluate public policy without using administrative data.

“The partners in the UK Data Service have decades of experience in managing research access to all types of data as well as established networks among key stakeholders. These will enable us to bring a dynamic and responsive approach to this initiative that will aid the Government’s Big Data ambitions as well as further research in the public interest.”

This Administrative Data Network, consisting of the ADS and four new Administrative Data Research Centres (ADRCs), marks the first phase of the ESRC’s £64 million investment in a Big Data Network. Two further phases involving new centres for business and local government data, and third sector and social media data, will be established in the coming year.

The ADS will play an overarching role in the network, actively bringing together the four ADRCs. Its core responsibilities will be: to provide a first point of contact for administrative data users and owners; be the central point for managing research access requests; ensure there is consistency in standards and practice across the network; engage with data owners, users and the public to develop a culture of effective and secure data sharing to enable better research for the public benefit; and to develop capacity and skills in using administrative data for research.

Professor Matthew Woollard, a Co-Investigator of the ADS and Director of the UK Data Service, said: "This is a profoundly important initiative which will help in untangling the legal and security issues relating to the use of routinely produced administrative data. The UK Data Service is hugely proud to have been selected to undertake this coordination role. We expect this to be the beginning of a new dawn for empirically-driven policy-relevant research and place the UK at the forefront of the use of administrative data."

Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster added: “It is hugely gratifying that Essex has been chosen to play such a lead role in this immensely important project. It is a reflection of our reputation for excellence in research and specifically as the UK’s leading social science university.”


Notes to editors

For further information please contact the University of Essex Communications Office, telephone: 01206 873529 or e-mail:

Further information is available on the ESRC website.

About the UK Data Service at the University of Essex
The ESRC-funded UK Data Service is a comprehensive data resource to enable evidence-based social and economic research. The website provides a portal to an extensive collection of high-quality digital data and related resources including UK censuses, government-funded surveys, longitudinal studies, international macrodata, qualitative data and business microdata. All are backed with extensive support, training and guidance to meet the needs of academic researchers as well as a growing number of researchers and analysts in business, third sector and government.

The UK Data Service is delivered by the UK Data Archive (based at the University of Essex) in partnership with Mimas and the Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research (University of Manchester), School of Geography (University of Leeds), Geography and Environment (University of Southampton) and EDINA (University of Edinburgh).

About the Administrative Data Liaison Service
The Administrative Data Liaison Service (ADLS) is funded by the ESRC to support administrative data based research in the UK. The service is managed by the University of St Andrews in conjunction with the Universities of Oxford and Manchester. Together, the ADLS team provides expertise in the research uses of administrative data, legal and ethical research, data security, disclosure risks and data linkage.

About the ESRC
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 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.

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