University interest in bidding for the Natural Resources Institute could be damaged by the cuts it will undergo over the next year, according to Greenwich University, one of the bidders.
Eight groups, all including universities, have been invited by the Government to prepare bids for the NRI, which is owned by the Overseas Development Administration. Its current mission is to support the United Kingdom aid programme by helping developing countries to improve productivity and sustainable management of their renewable resources.
The week before the announcement, the ODA said it plans to cut staff at the institute by a quarter and shift its emphasis away from pure research and towards applied and consultancy work.
The groups have not received prospectuses for NRI, nor have they been told officially about the cuts. But Greenwich, which plans to bid jointly with Edinburgh University, Imperial College and Wye College, said that the changes could lead to funding problems as the institute's work moved out of the arena encompassing funding council research assessment money.
"Any university would be concerned if the pure science base was being reduced," said John McWilliam, deputy vice chancellor at Greenwich. "I'm sure universities would be concerned that good quality research scientists are being let go."
Unions representing staff at the NRI are meeting Baroness Chalker, minister for overseas development, next week to argue against the cuts and the impending privatisation.
Steven Jary, national officer at the Institute of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, said that staff would object to being taken over by a university for several reasons, including taking on teaching commitments, and losing their reputation for independence, which they hold as a result of being part of the Government, and which eases their work overseas. But Mr Jary said that staff would object less to being taken over by a university than a private company.
Other groups being invited to prepare fuller bids are: Cranfield University: University of East Anglia with Norwich Research Park; Nottingham and Leicester universities; Reading University; Scottish Agricultural Colleges; Serco International in association with the University of Wales; and the University of Warwick. UEA, is considering moving the institute.