Flagship institute set to ask for more cash

July 8, 2005

Chancellor Gordon Brown's flagship project linking Cambridge University with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will have to ask the Government for more cash, despite previous assurances that it would become self-financing.

The Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI) was launched in 2000 with a remit to improve the UK's competitiveness and innovation record. With the personal backing of Mr Brown, it received £65 million from the Treasury in its first five years, and was expected to raise £16 million privately before becoming self-financing.

By 2003, it became clear that this was an unrealistic prospect, and last year the Government extended the project until 2006.

CMI has now said it requires a second phase of funding - up to at least 2009 - if it is to ensure that the results can be harvested. It said this was as a consequence of so many programmes being launched towards the end of the period, Michael Kelly, UK executive director of CMI, said he was not seeking government handouts, but stated that the institute would need about £32 million to continue its research.

"People here are acutely aware that we don't want a sweetheart deal," he said. "The Department of Trade and Industry is working with us to identify funding opportunities."

Professor Kelly said there was agreement that self-sufficiency was an unrealistic prospect.

"Nobody does that. Even MIT gets only 3 per cent of its research budget that way. The Government is our major funder, providing 85 per cent," he said.

So far, CMI has raised less than £16 million in funding, but it estimates that with contributions in kind from industrial partners the amount is closer to £20 million. It has spent £37.6 million on research and says the rest of the money raised has been spent in line with initial grant conditions.

Imperial College London has built close links with MIT, particularly with its technology-transfer arm. Tidu Maini, Imperial's pro rector for development and corporate affairs, said CMI had had virtually no impact.

"They've spent £65 million but little has been published or come out in public. They have to convince a lot of people there's some good stuff there."

He said he did not doubt that bringing together minds from two leading universities would generate great ideas, adding that an Imperial-MIT Institute would have been nice. "The question is whether it was value for money," he said.

CMI has been controversial from the start. Mr Brown announced the initiative without going through any formal decision-making process.

Early expectations were high and this was compounded by what Professor Kelly described as a "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach by the first executive directors.

They were replaced in 2003 by Professor Kelly and Ed Crawley of MIT, when the programmes became more focused.

One senior technology-transfer expert, who wished to remain anonymous, said the new directorship had made the collaboration more innovative.

But he said the results of CMI's work had to be disseminated to the rest of the sector. "It would be unforgivable for all that money to be spent and not to know what happened," he said.


CMI sets sights on the future


* Undergraduate entrepreneurship courses and student exchanges between Cambridge and MIT

* A range of new masters degrees

* Professional training, including setting up Praxis, now a spun-off company, for training technology transfer staff.


* Headed by four knowledge integration communities, which get academics and researchers from industry to work together on futuristic projects. One example is the Silent Aircraft Initiative, involving academics working with British Airways, the Civil Aviation Authority, a regional aerospace company, Rolls-Royce, National Air Traffic Services and Boeing to eliminate aircraft noise outside airport boundaries.


* Interest groups where industry leaders can discuss sector issues on neutral ground, with a follow-up seminar led by academics from engineering and social sciences addressing the issues raised

* Training for industry executives on innovation and related topics.

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