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Program To Connect Cambridge U. to MIT

By Rima Arnaout

MIT announced a $135 million partnership with Cambridge University in Great Britain yesterday, forming the Cambridge-MIT Institute.

The broad partnership will involve student and faculty exchange, as well as collaborative research and curriculum development projects.

“We believe that the synergies of Cambridge and MIT will present unparalleled opportunities for education and research and will serve to establish bold new university-industry linkages and create new cultures of entrepreneurism,” said President Charles M. Vest at yesterday’s signing ceremony in London.

“This really is unique in all of American education,” said Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72, a chief negotiator in the alliance. Usually, inter-university partnerships involve only a few departments, while the Cambridge-MIT Institute will “ultimately engage faculty from all schools” of MIT.

“Cambridge and British universities in general to a good job in basic science and do some very good engineering as well,” Bacow said. “They’ve been less successful in translating that into... economic development.”

The British government, led by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, approached MIT in the summer of 1998 with the idea for an alliance. “The interest of the [British] government is in trying to influence the culture of Cambridge... to capitalize on our entrepreneurial culture,” Bacow said.

Eighty percent of the initiative’s $135 million funding over five years is being provided by the British government; the rest will also be raised in the United Kingdom. “Rare is the case where governments invest these kinds of resources” in university partnerships, Bacow said.

Alliance means student exchange

The Cambridge-MIT alliance includes the exchange of 50 MIT juniors with 50 Cambridge students. “This is a breakthrough for undergraduate students,” said Dean of the School of Science Robert J. Birgeneau. The Cambridge-MIT Institute would provide the financial support for the exchange students, but further planning for the program has not taken place, Bacow said.

The program was due to begin in academic year 2000-2001 but may delayed until the next year, Bacow said, because negotiations between MIT and Cambridge took longer than planned. MIT had expected to announce the partnership this summer.

To facilitate student exchange, Cambridge and MIT are interested in developing some common engineering courses, particularly in the area where engineering and management overlap.

MIT will also exchange up to 30 faculty members with Cambridge as part of a Cambridge-MIT Fellowship program. The fellows would perhaps “convene a series of regular seminars... have some form of a regular visiting relationship at the other university,” Bacow said.

The fellowship program “is very exciting for the faculty in providing direct connections with Cambridge,” Birgeneau said.

According to Bacow, there will also be “collaboration on research in specific areas: entrepreneurship, productivity, and competitiveness. ... Beyond that, we will also work collaboratively” in fields including computer science, information technology, biomaterials, genomics, and physics.