UK looking to private finance to fund science in universities

Posted on 4 Jan 2012
David Willetts, Universities and Science Minister

David Willetts has urged private companies to fund new universities specialising in science and technology.

The Universities and Science Minister wants universities’ funding from external sources to grow by 10% over the next three years. In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, David Willetts said that “There is no extra public money but we are backing and supporting local economic partnerships aimed at driving growth.”

Mr Willetts is turning to private funds to rejuvenate science research in the UK, so that it can match that of international competitors.

He set out a vision for a “high-tech, high-quality science and research” future that will drive economic growth into the next decade.

The minister was quick to emphasise that the project will not damage existing universities, commenting that in the past, universities had expanded and improved as new people came in.

A recent competition for a new graduate school in New York, ran by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was offered as an example of the type of economic resourcefulness that could help to attract new funding.

The Universities and Science Minister is due to set out these ambitions in more detail later today. He will argue that the UK’s universities, science facilities and researchers are the best hope for making our way in the high-tech world of the future, creating jobs and boosting high tech economic growth.

Mr Willetts will say that “If properly nurtured they can ensure that Britain will be up there as a leading location for research in the physical and life sciences and beyond. Britain can be the preferred location for companies’ R&D.”

“We can have world-class industries using cutting-edge technologies. We can have a prosperous future with a role in the world.”

Mr Willetts will invite proposals for a new type of university with a focus on science and technology and on postgraduates. He will announce the creation of a new Catapult centre in satellite applications, providing businesses with access to orbit test facilities, to develop and demonstrate new technologies.

The plan also includes setting up Leadership Councils in E-Infrastructure and in Synthetic Biology, bringing together key players to drive forward private investment and innovation.

Dr David Docherty, CEO of the Council for Industry and Higher Education, said: “Collaboration between business and higher education is key to generating cutting edge research. The Government needs to continue with imaginative schemes to create the right environment to make this happen. Today’s announcement is therefore very exciting and good news for the country’s research base.”

As a result of the new strategy and funding plans, Mr Willetts is hoping to get more universities into the top 100 in the world.