Brickbat for Cambridge building plan

June 20, 2003

Old wounds were reopened at Cambridge University this week with the announcement that the technology transfer office is to be rebadged and housed in a £21 million new building.

A member of the university council refused to sign a report on the proposed East Forum building at West Cambridge, which would accommodate the new Cambridge Enterprise, university catering facilities and commercial incubator space. Ross Anderson said he was representing a large number of people in the university when he left off his name.

He said: "The university is not in good financial shape. We're losing tons of money. Unless we cut back savagely we will lose more."

The university has a projected deficit of almost £12 million for this year, and current analysis expects this to rise. It has embarked on a massive building programme, but sponsorship has been hard to find and the university has had to use its own resources. So far, only £8 million has been secured for the East Forum in the form of a single donation from venture capitalist Herman Hauser. The university plans to take money from an infrastructure fund and take out an £11 million loan.

The university announced this week that the technology transfer office, University Challenge Fund, Cambridge University Technical Services and the business creation and incubation sections of the university will come together to make up Cambridge Enterprise.

Professor Anderson said the new organisation would only create more bureaucracy and a "fat cat" technology transfer office.

The board of scrutiny favours a cost-effective reorganisation of enterprise activities and has concerns over whether Cambridge Enterprise could achieve this.

* The National Audit Office is to carry out a full inquiry into the Cambridge-MIT Institute following pressure from MPs.

A small-scale inquiry has already criticised the government for not carrying out a formal appraisal of the project, which cost £65 million of public money. It also said early management had been weak.

The Public Accounts Committee has now persuaded the NAO to run a full-scale inquiry followed by a public hearing by the committee, to which the secretary of state for trade and industry and the current chief executive of CMI will be asked to give evidence.

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