Sir Alec Broers, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, this week urged MPs to recognise that high technology offers as many "exciting, challenging and important" fundamental research opportunities as does science.
Speaking to the Associate Parliamentary Engineering Group, he warned, however, that universities were finding it increasingly difficult to contribute to high-technology development in industry.
"The accelerating pace and high cost of such work make it impractical to work alone, and yet the traditional rules of collaboration, which attempt to protect academic freedom while preserving industrial intellectual property rights, make partnership difficult," Sir Alec said.
It is also becoming increasingly difficult for researchers to work in areas of intense international competition without the partnership of large international companies, he added. Yet at the same time it is thought that small companies that are agile enough can develop truly novel concepts.
Sir Alec believes that a possible way forward is to bring universities together with companies of all sizes, with venture capitalists, banks, lawyers and local planners in clusters that incorporate modern communications and transport links.
The Associate Parliamentary Engineering Group is an all-party forum aimed at promoting engineering in Parliament.