CAMBRIDGE, U.K.-- On Monday, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown announced that the British government would invest more than $100 million over the next 5 years to help jump-start a broad new research and education alliance between the University of Cambridge here and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The institute will make use of existing infrastructures and will focus on staff and student exchanges, joint research and education projects, and adapting MIT's business programs to the United Kingdom.
When leaders of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) gathered in their Cambridge, Massachusetts, offices to consider which top-notch European university might make the best partner for a broad research and education alliance, it is perhaps not surprising that they chose that other Cambridge, home to one of Europe's oldest and highest profile universities. And their choice may have been swayed by the fact that it's not going to cost them a dime. On Monday, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown announced that the British government would invest more than $100 million over the next 5 years to help jump-start the new Cambridge-MIT Institute.
Brown was the principal architect of the partnership and first approached MIT leaders about 18 months ago, having been deeply impressed by MIT's track record in converting science into successful businesses. "If you look at what MIT has achieved in its time, it is actually quite frightening," a treasury spokesperson says, pointing at MIT's top ranking in patents awarded to U.S. universities and the more than 4000 companies it has spawned. MIT had been approached by several foreign institutions, but "the fit seemed to be best with the University of Cambridge," says Lawrence Bacow, chancellor of MIT. The institute will not be built of bricks and mortar, but will make use of existing infrastructures. Staff and student exchanges, joint research and education projects, and adapting MIT's business programs to the United Kingdom are the main ingredients of the deal. The British government will provide about 80% of the total budget for the next 5 years through its Capital Modernization Fund, and private industry will chip in the rest.
Despite Brown's focus on what Britain has to gain, MIT insists it is more than a hired gun. "We'll get a lot out of it as well," says Bacow. "This relationship provides extraordinary resources [for MIT] and an opportunity to collaborate with the University of Cambridge in a lot of areas." Cambridge Vice Chancellor Alec Broers agrees: "This ties together two prime research institutions from two different environments, and that's the way the world will have to go. If you want to be at the forefront of the scientific endeavor, you've got to have an international outlook."
International ties between universities are not new, but what makes this alliance unique is its broad scope. Unlike some more focused collaborations MIT has embarked on, such as a pending deal between MIT's Media Lab and the Irish government that would create a $200 million information technology teaching center in Dublin, "faculty from all our five schools will be engaged," Bacow says. Whether the new institute delivers will be seen after the initial 5-year funding runs out, when spin-offs and licensing fees are expected to pay more of the bills. If everything goes as planned, Bacow expects a lot more Cambridge-to-Cambridge traffic by next spring.