Globalisation in the Fens

November 12, 1999

A historic partnership between MIT and Cambridge was launched this week

Ministers have hailed a new partnership agreement between Cambridge University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the future model for global higher education.

Chancellor Gordon Brown said the new Cambridge-MIT Institute, dedicated to improving the UK's economic competitiveness, is a "path-breaking innovation". Cambridge vice-chancellor Alec Broers said it would be a "beacon for change". Charles Vest, Professor Broers's counterpart at MIT, said the new partners would "invent the future of education, research and economic development".

Details are still sketchy, as the project is based only on an agreement over broad principles, but the CMI, as the institute will be known, will be funded with Pounds 16 million already pledged to Cambridge from industry and Pounds 68 million that the Department of Trade and Industry won for the partnership from the Treasury's Capital Modernisation Fund.

The Treasury was prepared to release the money to Cambridge University without competitive bidding throughout the higher education sector in a move to secure MIT's investment in the UK, rather than elsewhere in Europe. MIT chose Cambridge as its only potential UK partner, it is understood.

There are no plans for a formal CMI building, but the partnership will create jobs at Cambridge.

The CMI will have four broad areas of activity: integrated research; professional practice programmes in innovation and entrepreneurship; undergraduate education; and the creation of a National Competitiveness Network.

The CMI's constitutional status is still unclear. Undergraduate students - largely studying science, technology and management - are expected to be members of either one institution or the other, not both. CMI students at Cambridge would be fully matriculated through Cambridge under the usual UK student funding arrangements. MIT students at the CMI would pay the usual US fees for MIT.

For undergraduate tuition, Cambridge and MIT will establish a series of common courses, "taught simultaneously at both locations as part of the degree programmes of the two universities", according to Cambridge. The CMI will also develop "business executive programmes", focusing on the management of technology, product development and entrepreneurship.

Research - where most of the government money will be pumped - will focus on "fields that have the potential to influence substantially the future evolution of technology", said a Cambridge spokesman. Ministers want to see research "designed to improve the UK's productivity and competitiveness" with clear potential for spin-off companies.

Areas earmarked for collaboration include physics, neuroscience, information technology, nanotechnology and bioengineering. Faculty exchanges between the institutions will be supported through joint Cambridge-MIT fellows. "The universities have the ability to develop ideas, often over a longer time scale than commerce and industry," said Professor Broers. "We can develop major joint research programmes." Cambridge sees the move as the first in a drive to become a "major player" in the US.

But ministers are keen that all of British higher education will benefit, although how plans to share the fruits of research will be realised is still under negotiation. The institute will form the centre of a "national knowledge network", based around British universities' enterprise centres, set up from the DTI's Science Enterprise Challenge fund.

Education secretary David Blunkett said: "It will bring advantage to universities across Britain through the new network."

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