N8 15: ‘The opportunities are endless’ – Prof Colin Bain of Durham University outlines how the N8 can help forge the North’s future


As part our celebrations of the N8’s 15th anniversary, we’re profiling individuals that have both benefitted from and contributed to the groundbreaking projects facilitated by the N8 that have helped make the Northern Powerhouse an international leader in academic and research excellence.

Colin Bain, Durham University’s Vice-Provost for Research, sat down with us to discuss how each day he is focussed on ensuring N8 universities are able to achieve more than the sum of their parts.

Why is it important for the North’s research community to foster collaboration through the N8?

Together, the N8 can tackle the endemic problems faced by the North of England.  A good example is the Policing Research Partnership that brings together all the police forces in the North of England so that the knowledge generated by co-produced research can be adopted quickly across the region.

What do you think the N8’s greatest achievement of its first fifteen years has been?

I could point to specific successes, such as the supercomputer ‘Bede’ that the N8 won and installed in Durham to support computational research not only in the N8 universities but across the UK.

However, I think that the cultural shift is perhaps the greatest achievement. The N8 has led to a culture of collaboration rather than competition in research, to a realisation that the N8 universities together can make the government sit up and take notice, to a level of ambition to change our society that would be beyond the aspirations of a single university.

What are the benefits of the N8’s work to forge closer ties with industry?

Strong partnerships with industry are important for rebuilding the economy of the North and creating skilled jobs for the next generation of the workforce. Particularly as we emerge from the pandemic and face up to the challenges of climate change, we really need to connect the N8 researchers with partners who can turn that knowledge into green companies and jobs. The N8’s Net Zero North project is an exemplar illustration of how this can be achieved.

Why is continued investment in the research capabilities of the North important for the future prospects of the region, and the wider UK?

The North of England is a fantastic place to live. If you invest in research in the North, you grow skilled researchers who want to stay in the north and help build exciting companies or address the deep-seated social and economic challenges of the region. The N8 can be a brain fountain to reverse the historical brain drain to the south of England.

How can the N8 support the next generation of researchers?

We are already doing this through initiatives such as the UK Food Systems Centre for Doctoral Training and the training programmes in high-performance computing. Building networks of researchers, sharing good practice in training, establishing doctoral training centres, enhancing mobility of researchers among the N8 universities – the opportunities are endless.

What are your hopes for the next 15 years of the N8?

My hope would be that the N8 becomes the trusted partner of government as it seeks to meet its target of increasing R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP. N8 will become a nexus for researchers in our eight great universities, for companies committed to the region and for local and national government, to create ambitious programmes to solve the great challenges facing society today.

How would you sum up the N8 in just three words?

Change through collaboration

To find out more about Colin’s work, please visit https://www.dur.ac.uk/about/governance/senior/cbain/