Cambridge gain unfair to rivals

November 26, 1999

Rival universities are uneasy about the government's decision to hand Cambridge University an exclusive grant to foster scientific enterprise. It is 50 times more than the average sum given to any institution in the same field. They say the gift should have been open to competition.

Chancellor Gordon Brown sanctioned Pounds 68 million to help Cambridge set up a science enterprise partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for research to "improve the UK's entrepreneurship, productivity and competitiveness". The grant, to be channelled through the Department of Trade and Industry, compares with Pounds 25 million the DTI allocated among 18 universities under its Science Enterprise Challenge Fund.

Each was given an average of Pounds 1.3 million to establish eight enterprise centres. DTI minister Stephen Byers said the Pounds 25 million "underlined the government's commitment to science and technology" and university research.

Ministers hope the Cambridge grant will benefit the whole sector by helping to establish a "knowledge network" of DTI enterprise centres, but details are sketchy and enterprise centre heads say they have been kept in the dark.

Clive Rowland, head of the enterprise centre at UMIST, said the first he knew of the deal was when he read it in the newspapers. He said channelling a large sum to one institution "maximises value and avoids dilution of critical mass and quality. But I would prefer it if we could all bid for the money."

David Livesey, Cambridge's head of academic affairs, is to be Cambridge director of the new institute, it was announced this week. He will head a small team establishing the broad nature of the collaboration. MIT will announce a US-based co-director. Cambridge said the Cambridge-MIT Institute will establish a national network with "linkages" to the enterprise centres and to industry.

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