In the news: Malcolm Grant

November 15, 2002

The prospect of a life spent inside an ivory tower has never appealed to Malcolm Grant, pro vice-chancellor of Cambridge University. He has a string of outside interests including being a barrister specialising in planning and the environment to sitting on the Greater London Authority's standards committee.

His understanding of the social clockwork stands him in good stead as governor of the Ditchley Foundation, one of those hard-to-define charitable organisations that brings together many of the UK's movers and shakers to debate the issues facing the international community.

But even by his own standards, 2002 has been a busy year. This week, and not for the first time, Professor Grant spoke out as chairman of the government's agriculture and environment biotechnology commission. Ministers had charged him with prompting a thorough debate on the future of genetically modified crops in the UK. But Professor Grant warned that underfunding had ruled out broad public consultation. However, he said he was keen to press on to seek a more limited take on the public's views on the new technology.

The New Zealander, who will be 55 in two weeks' time, is a firm advocate of open debate but not at the expense of getting the job done. This approach has also put him at the heart of another contentious furore - governance at Cambridge.

Professor Grant became professor of land economy at Cambridge in 1991, after lecturing in law at University College London and Southampton University. He became one of Cambridge's two pro vice-chancellors this year and is regarded as a possible successor to vice-chancellor Sir Alec Broers.

Professor Grant is a vociferous advocate of modernisation and said that Cambridge's democratic processes led to secretive decision-making that suppressed ideas. "Academics are excellent theorists and articulate critics, but they are sometimes poor administrators and even worse managers."

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