Financiers meet their match

November 3, 1995

Universities wishing to meet private financiers to share mutual interests will be able to register with a higher education "dating agency" by next January.

The funding councils, keen to push the Government's private finance initiative, have commissioned consultancy firm Newchurch & Company, which already runs a PFI database for the National Health Service, to establish a central register as "a one stop point of information" for the two groups. The private sector has already invested more than Pounds 1.6 billion in higher education.

Kingsley Manning, managing director of Newchurch and a visiting professor of management at Imperial College, said the idea behind what he calls "the dating agency" is to ease the match-making process between universities and commercial groups.

But not all projects will be, as jargon has it, "PFIable". "The PFI is a preferred but not an obligatory route," he said, adding that "it is only worth it if it is cheaper in real terms than the public sector".

Alongside the register, Newchurch will launch an advice line and a series of six university-based seminars starting at Warwick later this month and ending in Edinburgh in December.

Although many universities are used to dealing with private investors - most new university building now attracts 75 per cent private funding - there is concern that universities will not fully think through the PFI process.

The awareness campaign is designed to overcome this. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is also setting up a PFI support scheme to provide seedcorn funding to cover consultancy costs. HEFCE is keeping secret the amounts available, but the Department for Education and Employment recently gave a school Pounds 50,000 under a similar scheme.

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