Cambridge upbeat despite criticism

May 23, 2003

The UK head of Cambridge University's flagship enterprise partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said he would not be deterred from taking the project forwards by criticism from the National Audit Office.

An investigation by the government's spending watchdog concluded that the early management of the Cambridge-MIT Institute had "serious weaknesses".

The NAO found that there had been no formal appraisal when the government was considering funding the project in 1999 and no quantified performance targets. CMI also took too long to begin spending funds.

But Michael Kelly, executive director of CMI at Cambridge, said he was confident that the issues raised by the NAO had been addressed. "We're looking forwards and have huge buy-in for our new strategy," he said.

He added that a recent call for proposals attracted four times the expected number of applications.

CMI, a limited company owned jointly by Cambridge and MIT, arose from discussions between chancellor Gordon Brown and MIT, with the aim of transmitting MIT's expertise in enterprise to UK universities. It was established in July 2000 with a £65.1 million Treasury grant.

Responsibility for funding and management was given to the Department of Trade and Industry.

By the end of the first year, the DTI had picked up on weaknesses and commissioned an independent review of processes. It said continued funding would depend on adopting the management best practice recommendations of the review.

The NAO said the quality of reporting from CMI had subsequently improved.

But one DTI recommendation is outstanding - to produce clearly defined measurable objective performance indicators and to measure CMI's effectiveness.

In January, both the UK and US executive directors were replaced. Sir John Bourn, comptroller and auditor-general, said the new directors had agreed to develop metrics during CMI's third year.

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