Deborah Prentice.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Prentice has written an article for the Financial Times reflecting on the University’s role as a driver of economic growth, innovation and productivity far beyond the city and its surrounding region.

We need the brightest and best from the UK and around the world to come here.

Professor Deborah Prentice

In her article, she starts by comparing her current role with the one she had at Princeton in the United States where she worked for more than 30 years, latterly as its Provost. She discusses how Cambridge contributes to the UK at a scale and with a significance that no single US university can match, outlining its clear role to play as a national university, in the service of the country:

"Cambridge already contributes around £30bn each year to the UK economy. This delivers benefits right across the country. It is Europe’s 'unicorn' capital. Over the past three decades, 178 spin-outs and more than 200 start-ups connected to it have emerged, including semi-conductor giant Arm and the global life sciences firm Abcam. This success is no accident. For years, Cambridge has done things differently. The University’s intellectual property management policy is liberal, providing greater freedom to our researchers and ensuring that they benefit from the commercialisation of their ideas. We have established science parks, venture capital funds and accelerator programmes. Cambridge is now a globally significant place to start and grow businesses."

To continue with this success, she argues, Cambridge needs to be able to attract the brightest minds to the UK, something she considers to be at risk if the new government continues to pursue policies that make it appear unwelcoming to those from outside the UK:

"... they send a not-so-subtle message that foreigners are not welcome here. That alone is enough to deter talented students and academics, who are increasingly looking to the US, Asia, to other parts of Europe — our competitors for talent — for a warm welcome. Indeed, for Cambridge to sustain the success of our innovation ecosystem we need the brightest and best from the UK and around the world to come here — especially as postgraduate research students — and for a better environment to support them."

She urges that government to not just focus on infrastructure but to create an environment that supports other objectives in areas such as patents, licences, spin outs, industry collaborations and venture funding. This kind of reform, she says, would help universities like Cambridge really take off: 

"Britain is in a global competition; I know first-hand that what US universities spend on research in Boston and Silicon Valley is many times larger than what we see coming from our leading institutions in the UK. Despite this, Cambridge is ranked first globally for science intensity; we should aspire for it also to be the leader in translating research for economic impact. At the moment it is very good, but not yet great. The lessons for incoming ministers set on solving this country’s productivity under-performance are there to be learnt from our example, in terms of the barriers we face and the support we lack. This is both a huge challenge and huge opportunity for whoever wins the general election."


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