Institutes slated as commercially naive

Plans to create eight university-based Institutes for Enterprise outlined in this week’s pre-Budget report have been slammed as unrealistic. Chancellor Gordon Brown said the institutes would build on the success of the University Challenge Fund for private-public partnerships for commercialising scientific breakthroughs. They would ‘complete the path that takes inventions from the science lab through […]

Plans to create eight university-based Institutes for Enterprise outlined in this week’s pre-Budget report have been slammed as unrealistic.

Chancellor Gordon Brown said the institutes would build on the success of the University Challenge Fund for private-public partnerships for commercialising scientific breakthroughs.

They would ‘complete the path that takes inventions from the science lab through to high-tech venture capital and on to the national and global marketplace’, the report said.

Universities will compete for £25m which will be shared between eight institutes. Proposals will be expected to involve significant funding from the private sector.

But professor Gordon Edge, chairman of the Generics Group, said the proposal failed to recognise the reality of the commercialisation process.

He said it amounted to spending public money to duplicate, with insufficient funds, the roles of several existing private sector organisations. ‘The process of transferring technology into the marketplace is complex. It is capital-intensive and needs a highly educated and experienced resource. [The proposal] sounds like a theoretical model detached from the real world.’

But others welcomed the idea. Diana Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, called the proposals ‘very exciting’ and added: ‘Higher education is very keen to develop innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities.’

A Royal Academy of Engineering spokesman said the proposals were in line with the conclusions from its R&D lectures (see page 22).

* The Government is to enlist business leaders to promote industry and business in schools. Firms would be able to claim tax relief for staff seconded to schools and colleges.