Canterbury Development Corporation is close to an agreement to set up a branch of the Ultralab educational IT research establishment in the area, with financial aid from Apple Computer.
This will be the first overseas placement of an Ultralab, which is a joint venture of Anglia University in the UK, under Professor Stephen Hepple, and Apple.
The site for the NZ Ultralab has yet to be chosen, but is likely to be on one of Canterbury’s many educational campuses, sited so as to be within convenient distance of the others, says CDC spokesman Larry Podmore.
Ultralab is involved in a broad range of educationally related work, from the design of computer-based games to help children absorb knowledge, through to an online forum for schoolteachers and a multimedia digital learning resource for postgraduate students of thoracic medicine, known as Chestnet.
Podmore said last week that the lab and CDC had signed a memorandum of understanding. Finalising of the agreement may be as early as this week, he says.
The Christchurch lab is expected initially to employ about 30 to 50 New Zealand researchers.
Paul Johnston, general manager of Apple distributor Renaissance, says Hepple made it plain about a year ago that Ultralab had settled on Canterbury as the location for a South Pacific presence. He says the next major development beyond formal conclusion of the contract will be the appointment of a director for the New Zealand establishment, which may happen in about a month, he suggests.
Computerworld tried to contact Hepple by email to ask why New Zealand had been chosen, but had not received a response by press-time. Podmore says Hepple was impressed by the innovative characteristics of New Zealanders and the fact that “we’re a small country and can get things moving quite quickly”. A good infrastructure and a supportive educational apparatus, particularly the minister and local government, are also seen as pluses, he says. And knowledgeable productive New Zealanders cost as little as half the remuneration that would be paid to equivalent British or US staff.
Initial areas of research are yet to be chosen, but distance education between here and the UK is a promising avenue, he says.