The Government's drive to privatise 40 public sector research laboratories could lead to a university takeover of the Institute of Food Research.
The institute is allied to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and has laboratories in Reading and Norwich Research Park, adjacent to the University of East Anglia.
Vice chancellors Roger Williams of Reading University and Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll of UEA have sent a joint letter to Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, saying that their preferred solution would be a close academic and managerial association with the two IFR laboratories. They say that integration would also offer the best value for money.
The proposal virtually amounts to a bid, on which ministers are likely to look favourably.
A UEA spokesman said the university already works closely with IFR. "We would consider any options that help strengthen the park and its constituent parts further and believe it is inappropriate to preempt any announcement," he said. Another UEA source said privatisation of IFR is the university's least favoured option.
Professor Williams of Reading said that if the prior options review results in a recommendation that IFR should be privatised, he would "feel uncomfortable" with any organisation taking over IFR Reading except the university.
The BBSRC said: "Proposals from UEA and Reading University will be evaluated alongside other options. The main criteria will be the effective delivery of research funded by BBSRC and other public and private customers."
Nigel Titchen, science group president of the Institute of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, said: "We believe the strategic overview IFR has in food and nutrition research would be damaged by a move to the universities.
"There is a fear that universities would cherry-pick those bits of research at the IFR that fit in with their business plans. As yet staff have received no assurances that the university sector would protect jobs."