Ulster University & University College London to Establish £11.7m Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Health Technologies

Ulster University & University College London to Establish £11.7m Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Health Technologies

We are pleased that our ECHAlliance Foundation Partners Ulster University have celebrated this month with the announcement of the recruitment of 75 researchers, in a new PhD programme that will advance digital health technologies such as virtual hospital wards and hospital-at-home programmes that enable earlier diagnosis and personalised treatment strategies, alleviating pressure on the healthcare system.

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Ulster University has partnered with University College London to secure funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to establish a Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Health Technologies.


Recruiting 75 PhD researchers, the £11.7 m Centre will train the next generation of digital health researchers and innovators who will develop and advance the future state of digital health technologies.

Forming part of the UK’s biggest ever investment in engineering and physical sciences doctoral skills at a total of £1 billion, the Ulster University-UCL partnership is one of sixty-five Centres for Doctoral Training.

Accommodating 4,000 doctoral students over the next eight years, the Centres for Doctoral Training are part of the UK Research and Innovation plans to address strategically important areas including AI, quantum technologies, semiconductors, telecoms, and health technology.


EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Health Technologies

With unprecedented pressure on healthcare systems, exacerbated by the burdens of infectious and chronic diseases, an ageing population, inequalities, fragmented systems and workforce shortages, new technological approaches and novel digital solutions are required to enable transformational improvement of care pathways and outcomes.

However, it is recognised that the current cross-domain workforce skills deficit has the potential to hinder progress towards the creation of new solutions and risks advancement in digital health, limiting capacity to tackle these health challenges.

Established as one single centre hosted across Ulster University and UCL, the centre will provide specialist training for researchers and innovators in digital health technologies for the community-acute care (home-hospital) ecosystem.

By training researchers to address immediate local and national health challenges while working towards a range of broader Sustainable Development Goals, the CDT will avoid traditional disciplinary silos, instead taking a holistic approach to research and innovation. Researchers will examine a wide range of subjects including materials, sensors and medical devices, human-computer interaction, and behavioural science.


The PhD projects will be underpinned by technology innovations delivering projects spaning four key themes:

  • Diagnostic & Prognostic Indications.
  • Treatment & Care Optimisation
  • Disease Tracking, Surveillance & Modelling
  • Health Data Security, Interoperability & Sharing.


Students will work on focused and bespoke research projects within each theme ranging from the development of AI based smartphone retinal scanning technology to quantum sensors for infectious disease surveillance in wastewater.

The Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Health Technologies will combine academic and healthcare expertise with health data access, industry partnerships, digital innovation, business, and entrepreneurship.

Researchers on the four-year PhD programmes will be registered at either Ulster University or UCL, with an anticipated 50:50 split between the institutions. Following an individual skills assessment, each researcher will be equipped with a personal training plan for their four years and will conduct a combination of group training across the research themes and a three-month secondment in an industry or healthcare setting.

The Ulster University team is led by Professor Dewar Finlay, Professor Jim McLaughlin and Professor Brian Meenan from the School of Engineering, Professor Assumpta Ryan from the School of Nursing and Paramedic Science and Professor Raymond Bond from the School of Computing.

Ulster University Head of School of Engineering and Ulster University Lead Professor Dewar Finlay commented:


“The centre is an exciting development as it provides the ideal vehicle to develop the next generation of highly skilled digital health researchers.  This comes at a critical time for us as we make significant investments in our research provision around Digital Heath going forward. We are also delighted to have been able to strategically partner with UCL in this initiative and, in turn, leverage the significant combined track record in Healthcare Technology research across both institutions.”


UCL Professor of Healthcare Engineering and Lead Professor Rebecca Shipley added:


“Digital health technologies can revolutionise the way that we manage health and disease – this new centre will train a new generation of researchers at the intersection of engineering, computing and health to deliver on this opportunity. I am delighted to jointly launch this new centre across UCL and Ulster University, drawing together our strengths in research and entrepreneurship and bringing together over 30 partners across industry, healthcare and the charity sectors to provide a unique training and employment opportunities for our graduates.”


Ulster University Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) Research Professor Liam Maguire said:


“This funding enables us to build on our significant research credentials and body of existing research in digital healthcare technologies. Ulster University is leading a related and complimentary Belfast Regional City Deal investment of £43 million, developing a Centre of Digital Healthcare Technology which will host these researchers and enable us to work towards transforming healthcare, not just in Northern Ireland but further afield.”


Science and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan said:


“As innovators across the world break new ground faster than ever, it is vital that government, business and academia invests in ambitious UK talent, giving them the tools to pioneer new discoveries that benefit all our lives while creating new jobs and growing the economy. By targeting critical technologies including artificial intelligence and future telecoms, we are supporting world class universities across the UK to build the skills base we need to unleash the potential of future tech and maintain our country’s reputation as a hub of cutting-edge research and development.”

Discover more about Ulster University:


With a progressive approach to teaching, dedication to pushing research boundaries and strong commitment to economic development, Ulster University is a responsive, dynamic vibrant centre of learning. As a regional university, Ulster are uniquely placed to engage with communities, with local leaders and with imaginative partners who share ambitions for Northern Ireland and its young people. Our rich history spanning decades, coupled with our commitment to innovation and inclusivity, has positioned us as a leading global university.


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