THE GOVERNMENT'S premier technology transfer scheme is to be extended beyond universities, but there are no assurances of additional money for major expansion.
Science minister John Battle said that the 22-year-old Teaching Company Scheme, which enables young graduates to spend up to two years in a firm developing innovative ideas, will from next month be widened beyond industry university partnerships.
Other organisations in the science, engineering and technology base, such as research institutes, public laboratories and independent research and technology organisations, will now be able to benefit from the industry links.
But contrary to recommendations of a recent review of the scheme, Mr Battle refused to consider more funding at this stage. "It is not possible to give undertakings about the future level of Government support before the conclusions of the comprehensive spending review are known," he said.
The TCS costs government Pounds 18 million a year and industry Pounds 30 million. There are 1,000 graduates working in 700 mostly small and medium-sized firms, backed by more than 100 universities.
The recent five-yearly review by a panel chaired by Sir Robin Nicholson, chairman of Pilkington Optronics Ltd and former chief scientific adviser to the Government, concludes that "TCS's reputation as the Government's premier technology transfer scheme is warranted". But it found that no more than 5 per cent of small and medium-sized companies who might use TCS are involved.
"The panel believes that TCS is operating well below the optimum scale necessary to achieve the level of technology exploitation that the UK needs to increase substantially its competitiveness.
"Choosing not to accelerate the growth of TCS and increase its level of market penetration may result in too high an opportunity cost," the review says, adding that three or four-fold expansion in the next five to seven years isjustifiable.