The Natural Resources Institute, which supports the United Kingdom aid programme by helping developing countries improve productivity, is to lose 140 staff, its owner the Overseas Development Administration has announced.
The ODA has drawn up a shortlist of eight institutions, or groups of institutions, interested in buying the NRI. Each of the eight groups has a university affiliation, and will be invited at the end of this month to submit proposals for taking over the NRI.
The ODA cut 47 staff from the NRI in 1993. It is now aiming to have 360 professional and administrative staff instead of its present 500, according to Baroness Chalker, minister for overseas development. She announced the cuts in reply to a parliamentary question.
The ODA said the NRI would focus more on applying research in developing countries rather than originating new research itself. It would also increasingly act as an agent, partly by commissioning research from universities on behalf of the ODA.
Peter Green, head of information at NRI, said: "A lot of people are saying this is the end of an era. That's not true. The NRI is adapting to meet market forces." He said that overseas aid research had changed so that laboratory research was not so necessary. For example, there has been a growth in socio-economic and forestry research. Vacant laboratories could be turned into "offices and consultancies", he said.
Last year nearly 90 per cent of NRI funding came from the ODA. It is aiming to get over a third of its money from non-ODA sources by 2000.
Bodies understood to be bidding for the NRI include a consortium of Greenwich and Edinburgh Universities with Wye College, the agriculture centre of the University of London; Imperial College London; and Reading University. Greenwich University's department of earth sciences has moved into spare rooms at the NRI, which is based at Chatham Maritime in Kent.