In the news

November 23, 2001

The increasingly intimate love-in between 10 Downing Street and BP chief executive John Browne will be watched with anxious interest by vice-chancellors.

Suggestions this week that Lord Browne, recently ennobled as a "people's peer", is acting as an informal and influential adviser on higher education have been lent further weight by the growing links between BP and the Labour government.

Downing Street's director of government relations and Tony Blair's oldest friend in politics, Anji Hunter, left the prime minister's right-hand side earlier this month to join Lord Browne at BP as director of communications. She is one of a growing list of Blair aides close to Lord Browne, who include pollster Philip Gould and Lord Simon, who was BP chairman until May 1997, when he became a trade minister in Mr Blair's first government.

It is understood, but unconfirmed, that Lord Browne holds strong views on the inefficiency of university governance, especially at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Lord Browne backed the partnership forged last year between Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which ran into controversy when the Americans expressed strong criticisms of Cambridge's ancient and unwieldy governance systems.

BP Amoco gave Cambridge one of the biggest gifts in its recent history in June 1999 when it put up £25 million for a new research institute, the BP Amoco Institute.

An honorary fellow of St John's College Cambridge, Lord Browne joined BP, which sponsored his university studies, in 1966. He has also obtained an MBA from Stanford University in the United States.

Lord Browne lives alone in London, after the death last year of his mother Paula, his only maternal family member to survive Auschwitz.

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