Business meets the boffins

December 01, 1999

US – UK link-up to boost entrepreneurship

Massachusetts-based MIT and Cambridge University are setting up an institute to undertake research and education that will enhance UK productivity and competitiveness, improve technology, stimulate research spin-offs and bring MIT’s business executive programmes to the UK. Of the institute’s £84 million budget, £16 million will be raised from private industry partners. Announced on November 8, among the companies expressing an interest in the new institute are Ford , BP Amoco , GlaxoWellcome and GEC .

Meanwhile Parametric Technology , a large US computer aided design company, and Sun Micro Systems are among corporate sponsors of a new $40 million E 2Institute (E 2standing for Electronic Engineering Business Management) – a joint initiative between the University of Warwick and the Carnegie-Mellon University of Pittsburgh. The Institute will teach middle managers the most effective ways to use the internet, and aims to train 7,000 people a year by 2001. Contact David Livesey, Cambridge-MIT Institute, on 01223 332 300 ( or Kristen Reidt, Parametric Technology, on 00 1 781 398 5628 (

Unilever starts to reverse brain-drain

A funding commitment of £13 million over five years from consumer products company, Unilever , has tempted leading British pharmaceutical chemist, Robert Glen, back from the USA to set up a new centre for molecular informatics at Cambridge University. The centre will use IT to process research findings about molecules, so turning at least some of the 90% of findings not currently utilised into tools for knowledge generation and marketable applications. Contact Unilever on 0171 822 6010 (

University – business links gain state backing

English higher education institutions are set to receive £60 million under a new initiative to promote contacts between businesses and universities, it was announced on November 30. The Higher Education Reach Out to Business and the Community fund is funding 85 successful applications, with a second round and an estimated budget of £23 million due to be announced in January.

In a related move, a new scheme to help Welsh companies to make better commercial use of the expertise of higher and further education colleges was launched on November 26. The Colleges and Businesses in Partnership scheme enables companies to undertake projects using students qualified to an appropriate level within the company. Contact DTI Enquiries on 0171 215 5000 ( or Business Connect Wales on 0345 969 798 (

Higher education finally provides business-wise graduates

The publicly funded Enterprise in Higher Education Initiative has changed the mindset of higher education institutions so that they no longer turn-out graduates who are not employment- or enterprise-oriented. This is the main finding of research for the government from York Consulting, released at the start of October. The £60 million EHE initiative was launched in 1987 to change attitudes so enterprise is seen as a legitimate concern. Contact York Consulting on 0113 3545 (

Few ideas lead to lower innovation

A lack of promising ideas is a major problem restricting commercial innovation, according to a joint survey from NatWest , 3M and the CBI . The 1999 Innovation Trends Survey of 314 manufacturing and 191 non-manufacturing firms, released on October 16, shows that the lack of new ideas is, for the first time in 10 years, the main constraint on innovation. However, over the coming year, near half of respondents (48%) plan to develop links with other firms, and nearly a third (31%) with academia. Contact Andy Rogers, 3M Communications, on 0171 386 1486 ( or Christine Gregory, CBI, on 0171 395 8086 (

news in brief

• Clifford Chance, the world’s largest law firm, has set up an exchange programme to allow law students to study for two years at Cambridge and two years at the University of Paris II, so being able to practice in both countries. The first scholarships will be awarded in October 2000. Contact Alison McFarquhar, University of Cambridge on 01223 339670 (

• Schroders Investment Management is funding a scholarship to allow a chief executive officer or equivalent from the charity sector to study on a six day residential course at Harvard in July 2000. Contact Schroder Millennium Scholarship 0171 658 2252.

• Procter & Gamble has founded a fellowship so a company manager can be seconded to Northumbria University for two years, to improve graduates’ business skills and promote graduate recruitment into industry. Contact Northumbria University 0191 227 3222.

• The Northern Ireland Office announced a new initiative in November to give lecturers in further education colleges direct experience of industry. The £300,000 scheme will finance placements for FE lecturers in industry ranging between six and 12 weeks. Contact Northern Ireland Office 0171 210 3000 (


Go back not that many years, and corporate community involvement was essentially about good relations with working class communities near big factories. Support for education was all about local semi-skilled recruitment – a far cry from the recent flurry of tie-ups between companies and higher education. But these are symptomatic of today’s knowledge-based economy and of the changed financing of universities, where research funding from industry is up 30% in the last three years.

In the US, support for higher education is a core part of corporate philanthropy, often through matching employees’ own donations as alumni. Universities are hugely important to the economy. Graduates from MIT alone have founded 4,000 firms which now employ over one million people and generate revenues in excess of $230 billion.

In the UK, these trends present a set of challenges to CCI managers. Education is charitable, but places like Cambridge serve the elite of society. What are you doing to ensure that bright black kids from Brixton can win through too? If you are claiming these big payments to universities as part of your total CCI contribution, are you ensuring the research benefits are in the public domain, even if commercial exploitation is reserved? Are you prepared to see your matched giving budgets put under even greater pressure, as employees get tapped by their alma mater?

Console yourself, however. Whatever problems you face, the shock to the sheltered world of the professors is even greater, as pushy companies increasingly invade the quiet cloisters of academia.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 49 – December, 1999