Centres of excellence

Yesterday I attended a seminar on harnessing science, great universities and new enterprise to promote growth.

The UK has several universities in the top ranks of world academic achievement. Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial London and other leading London establishments provide homes to some of the greatest world scientists and thinkers. However, if you compare our leading institutions with the Boston and Californian clusters of academic excellence which often top world tables we score less well when it comes to attracting private sector donations, harnessing venture capital and developing more new business on the back of the university achievements.

There is a growing interest in the idea of a golden triangle linking Oxford, Cambridge and London. There is also some success in all three main university locations in developing new business, attracting in new capital and encouraging more entrepreneurs. Oxford, Cambridge and London now have their own clusters of science and technology based businesses with good links and connections into the universities. Our success is one many other parts of the world would like to emulate, even if we are still behind the two best of the US on some of the qualifying results.

I trust the Autumn Statement will assist these important areas with improved transport links. They are developing critical mass for themselves in areas like nuclear, pharmaceutical and genetic developments. They can help generate the more interesting better paid jobs which a first world economy needs.

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67 Comments

  1. Mark B
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    It of course, would help these places of excellence, if those who made promises to pay student fees if elected to power, had actually kept said promises. But they were, and are, more interested in power than they are serving the people.

    I am not sure if there is such a means but, is there any charity or government assistance, whereby a student of good academic ability but few funds can access these places. Or do we just do things like that for foreigners and the Scottish, via the Barnet Fomula ? I ask because, these places would not be so snobbish had say, they had more people coming through who had not come from Eaton or Harrow and done a PPE.

    • Bob
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      @Mark B

      “But they were, and are, more interested in power than they are serving the people.”

      They are serving the people, but not the British people.

      An increase of £4 billion pounds p.a. for foreign aid has to be funded by somebody, so university students were handed the bill.

  2. matthu
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    We have consistently been told that climate change is the biggest crisis facing the world and governments everywhere have shown how adept they are at harnessing “climate science” to promote “growth” in green crap and lefty liberalism everywhere.

    So I am afraid don’t currently have a lot of confidence in government’s ability to harness science or universities or even school education in pursuit or anything at all.

    • forthurst
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

      We live in an idiocracy: climate scientists without special needs already know that what drives the climate is the intensity of cosmic rays, generated by novae and supernovae, penetrating the Van Allen belts and their attenuation by the Sun’s magnetic field which is itself attenuated by the eleven year cycle when the Sun’s poles reverse, together with the level of sunspot activity. The importance of cosmic rays is their involvement in seeding cloud, the main driver of the Earth’s climate and which as a result of supernovae are known to have triggered previous Ice Ages. If loons wish to continue to predict the evolution of our climate, they need to forget about CO2 and model predictions based on the future intensity of sunspot activity as well cosmic rays from novae and supernovae as yet not observed (if they can manage that, how?).

  3. Lifelogic
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Indeed top Universities have huge potential, the SEIS, EIS tax reliefs have helped a lot though the tax rules are rather silly and complex. Our universities have great potential which is hugely under exploited by them. Many could profitably just increase or improve the courses they offer (rather than rationing it in some pathetic elitist way as they often do). If people can pay and cope with the courses why ration them.

    They are alas so often run by people who think business is a dirty word or who have fallen for the group sector group think on the global warming exaggerations or other similar delusions and daft religions. They are not very enterprising as institutions though they are improving.

    Universities are often rather too dependent on the state sector teat. Essentially, lefty BBC think, Guardian, big state, anti science thinking and general ever bigger state sector think. Things are slowly improving, it used to be far worse at Cambridge thirty years back. They do at least have decent business schools and schemes to exploit/transfer technology now and some good business parks. No shortage of under used flat land around Cambridge which helps or would if planning were less restrictive.

    On the other hand courses like PPE at Oxford indirectly seem to inflict huge damage on the country with an endless stream of dreadful people who become MP’s though a few do still seem to survive the treatment. Then again perhaps it is just the types of people who aspire to do PPE at Oxford. Essentially people desiring to be professional politicians in the main, who believe in little but riding the system for their personal career advancements.

    I am not if favour of regional tax breaks and incentives surely the whole country should compete on a level playing field. Rather than having tax breaks only for certain areas.

    The dreadful, slow. expensive, multi-level and very uncertain UK legal system and the litigation culture encouraged by the government is also a huge competitive disadvantage for UK industry and start ups. Could we not for once encourage the people who build, invent, design and grow business rather than the people and industries who endless destroy, mug, tax and inconvenience them.

    We still have no real competition in banking they still offer virtually nothing on deposits (perhaps 0.2%) then mug perfectly sound and secure businesses or individuals for say 9%-30%+ on overdrafts. A margin of 45-150 times what they pay out. The banks keep being fined for their behaviour but it is always the customers who suffered initially who are robbed yet again to pay these fines.

    If ever an industry needed a competition investigation and some real competition this is the one.

    Perhaps we should start by rationing the student loans for fees for people to study hobby subjects are university and increase grants for engineering, physics, maths, science, business and proper economics. At least half of the stuff taught at most universities is pretty pointless or something people could just take up as a hobby (at their own expense) should they wish to.

  4. zorro
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    The triumph of hope over experience I fear…..

    zorro

  5. Javelin
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I think there is a huge opportunity with nano technology – the barrier to entry is high – and the opportunities great – but I don’t see the Government sponsoring British people doing PhDs. Most of them are foreign and have no loyalties it ties to this country.

    The problem I see is that the Government can’t seem to stop foreigners doing the research but then expect foreigners to stay loyal to the uk to start companies here. It doesn’t work like that.

    • Javelin
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      It should not be about getting the best and the brightest from around the world to do a PhD. It should be about getting the best people who have a loyalty to the uk who will start a company up and created growth.

      The brightest people from around the world are NOT the same people who will help job growth in the UK. To do that that Government need to pull people back in from the City before or after they have children – because they are the people who can take 3 years out with low pay and then start up companies with their financial experience.

      • a-tracy
        Posted December 2, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        I agree Javelin, there is also very little enterprise in british universities and it is discouraged from what I’ve seen.

  6. agricola
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I agree with the direction of your submission and hope it all works out. Historically we have been unbelievably inept at capitalising on the advances that individual Brits create. Having a largely science, engineering and business illiterate civil service and government has added to this incapacity for capitalising on our entrepreneurship and inventiveness. The list of failures includes:-
    The Jet Engine
    Radar
    Hovercraft
    VTOL Aircraft
    Supersonic Civil Aircraft
    Computers
    Atomic Energy
    The Internet.

    The great basic failure has been with education since 1960. With a too small number of exceptions the only segment of education that works is the private sector. It started with Tony Crosland (and Labour not liking grammar schools ed) with grammar schools in the 60s and very nearly succeeding with help from subsequent governments in removing the Direct Grant system. Even today we have the privileged Tristram Hunt vowing to disadvantage the only really success story in education by removing it’s charitable status. Anyone with half a brain would make private education tax deductible. Those that take advantage of it have already paid their contribution to state education via income tax. Grammar schools should be re-introduced because they gave equality of opportunity and the only route to social advancement. Therefore seen as an anathema to socialism where the lowest common denominator is the desired aim. Blair’s misguide aim that 50% of school leavers should go to university to get a degree in anything only led to disillusionment for many when they found that the job market was not looking for degrees in fringe subjects. Charging students £9000 per annum for the privilege , while at the same time paying £12 Billion per annum to corrupt and spurious causes around the World can only be the work of an unthinking government.

    If I am still around, I will judge academia, industry and government by what they successfully bring to market to the advantage of the UK population. I have in mind Cold Fusion for power generation, but am not holding my breath.

    • agricola
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      And I thought I was being polite in avoiding Tony Crosland’s quoted sentiments etc

      Reply I did not quote them as I thought the quote was disputed. Anyway, we all know lots of Labour people are very anti grammar, so no need to personalise it.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        Tony Crosland – Highgate School, Trinity College, Oxford Classical Moderations in Greek and Latin Literature. No wonder he wanted to destroy them. I cannot imagine a good working class scientist or engineer wanting to close them.

        But was it not Mrs Thatcher as education secretary under the dreadful Heath who closed the highest number? Needless to say Cameron is just another Ted Heath on this and indeed most other issues.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted December 1, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        I am pro good grammar schools and pro good other schools and colleges that provide good technical and practical skills which are often rather more useful anyway. Clearly there needs to be some movement and some interchange between them at all ages. The eleven plus is very far from perfect at selecting the best route for children. Particularly as many children can be well coached for it while other are not coached at all. Many children may not even have sufficient English at 11.

    • Matt
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      Whilst I highly sympathise with your points, I must point out that “Cold Fusion” is about as likely to work as hurling meringue at a castle. Fusion can only take place at extremely high temperatures (millions of degrees). There is serious work going on around the world with developing fusion technology for power generation. It’s decades away from being practically useful (although this could be cut substantially by throwing money at it). Serious fusion research uses laser confinement to achieve high temperatures and pressures, or magnetic bottles to contain extremely high temperature plasmas. Said plasma consisting of deuterium and tritium (heavy versions of hydrogen). That’s the only way it will ever work.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      Hot fusion seems rather more likely.

  7. David Cockburn
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    For so long as our Universities could look to the Treasury for most of their finance they could be expected to ignore private donors and company affiliations. So one of the benefits of the tuition fees being paid by the student is that the Universities are less beholden to the state. More action on this front would be beneficial.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Indeed and it makes students think twice before they study hobby subjects or the many duff courses of little value often at duff universities.

  8. Richard1
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    The govt would do best to look at constraints which make the UK uncompetitive before it heaps any subsidies on these areas. A good starting point would be broadband coverage, especially in rural areas, which is dreadful by comparison with almost all other countries, even developing ones. This is because, 30 years after privatisation, and despite (or because of) regulation BT remains a monopoly for fixed line telephony. Its very surprising this hasn’t been challenged properly at least by Conservatives. A reduction in CGT to more a more competitive rate would help, as well as a huge simplification of the tax system. If it can be arranged, a change of mindset away from demonizing rich and successful business people is also essential, but for that we would need the Labour party to return to its Blair era mentality, and would also require ignoring eg the LibDems and the loony left such as the Green Party. And for more established industries we need to junk green crap and secure reliable and cheap energy.

    • libertarian
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      Richard1

      As an entrepreneur and a long term angel investor ( more than 40 start ups over the last 20 years ) I totally and utterly agree with you and your post.

      Our telecoms infrastructure is a 3rd world monopoly . However even our somewhat competitive cellular network is a joke. Vodafone have just announced that 3 G ( yes THREE G ) is now available in my town. That is a town in South East of England less than 30 miles from London. You can forget 4G and fast internet. Oh and this afternoon I couldn’t actually get a 3G signal. My broadband runs at LESS than 1mb down and 0.2 up. Wet sting and tin cans would be more effective.

      I got better service in Kenya than Kent.

      As a young wannabe entrepreneur said to me 2 days ago at a business start up event at our local University. Why do the government offer startup loans and subsidies when it would be better if they just didn’t take the money away in the first place? He wanted investment to pay his business rates and energy costs.

      Oh and on the subject of business start up differences between the USA and the UK I suggest you look at the tax treatment in the two countries. I earn money and pay income tax in full. I invest money in a business and it fails, I can’t write that off against my tax bill, US investors can. The business succeeds however and I pay tax again.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted December 1, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        UK investors can usually offset losses against income if it is structured well. Either with the EIS or losses on shares (subscribed for) in most close companies.

        • libertarian
          Posted December 1, 2014 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

          LL

          Yes SEIS and EIS qualifying schemes can help, but you certainly can’t claim for loses on shares in close companies

      • Richard1
        Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        Yes mobile infrastructure is also v poor. This is a real competitive disadvantage. To invest in a risky enterprise in the UK such as a start up you need to do so under EIS otherwise you get no write offs (unless you happen to have other gains in the event of a loss) but if it goes well you now pay an uncompetitive 28% CGT.

  9. John E
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    It is a bit of a puzzle as to why so little has come from places such as Imperial in terms of new businesses. They are lifting their game with the Imperial West development in White City, and their commercialisation venture Imperial Innovations recently brought biotech company Circassia successfully to market, so there is good progress there at least.

    Neil Woodford is a long term backer of ventures like Imperial Innovations so perhaps he is the best person to ask. He has emphasised the need for long term patient investment in these areas which goes against the grain today for many, so that could be one thing for Government to encourage. My own view is that it’s also a cultural issue where we are just not being sufficiently greedy or competitive.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      Too many people wanting easy overpaid jobs in law, banking, bureaucracy, over regulation, the state sector, politics and far, far too few engineers, salesmen scientists, builders and doers.

  10. acorn
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    “Our success is one many other parts of the world would like to emulate” I am starting to wonder which planet you Westminster guys are on, Planet Bullshit I suspect.

    The UK filed less IP (Intellectual Property) with WIPO in 2013 than it did the year before. Out of 205,000 Patent applications, the UK filed 2.3% of them and dropping. It was a similar miserable performance with Trade Marks and even worse with Industrial Design Registrations. http://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2014/article_0002.html

    The world has moved on into the 21st Century. Westminster hasn’t. Westminster and its knackered old ideological clowns and jokers ARE the problem.

    Reply Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial are in the top 10 universities worldwide. Have you been to see the science parks/ knowledge industry investments surrounding them?

    • Posted December 1, 2014 at 1:08 am | Permalink

      Acorn,

      UK science and scientists is still widely regarded. Yes there are problems, but having universities like the ones mentioned (3 out of the world’s top 10) plus others like Uni College London and Manchester, which are also up there with the best in the world, shows there’s plenty to build on and there’s no need for such negativity.

      It would be in the country’s interest to develop its science base by increasing spending to something like 2% of GDP. Its currently less than 1% I believe. That would be money well spent.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

        Indeed but spend it well on things that are likely to justify the costs – not on totally stupid things like missions to Mars the Moon outer space and most of the green crap. So beloved of publicity seeking politicians.

        What did we get for out £1Bn on Rosetta?

  11. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    ” the Autumn Statement”, most of it now being leaked by the Chancellor to the press before being announced in Parliament. At one time such action would have resulted in the loss of his job, now it is just part of the news manipulation by unscrupulous politicians.

  12. alan jutson
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Well they would certainly need excellent communication links at the very least.

    Problem is John, that so many Road improvement schemes have been delayed or scrapped, the Country now needs a huge investment in new or improved roads almost everywhere to cope with ever growing traffic.

  13. Lifelogic
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    George Osborne just now said productivity was a British problem. Indeed and it is caused by high taxes, over complex taxes, a poor expensive legal systems, a bloated state sector, restrictive planning, expensive energy, daft employment laws, half witted EU regulations, environment nonsense ….. all things this Coalition seems to make worse.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Also not enough decent science graduates, misdirection of the private sector by silly government grants (for green crap and electric cars etc, pointless/counter productive wars, cheap loans for pointless degrees, too many lawyers ……

      • A different Simon
        Posted December 1, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

        Where are science graduates going to live ?

        They won’t earn enough to afford a flat in this country unless they go and work in the finance sector .

        Heaven help them if they want to get married and breed .

        • Lifelogic
          Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

          Up north perhaps Derby, Birmingham, Lancashire, Scotland, Swindon? They are better paid than most sectors other than the legally over protected professions such as law, medicine and a few others.

  14. stred
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    The present policy of spending more on centres of excellence, while making other scientists fight for reduced funding is similar to the policy of the French in the 18th and19th century. In the UK our succcess was largely brought about by entrepreneurs who did not have to beg from government. We beat the French, who spent a lot but often on unsuccessful projects, but had impessive institutions in Paris to waste their money. Two brains seemed to think we should do the same. Half a brain more like.

  15. DaveM
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Are there any plans to create other holistic centres of excellence, for example shipbuilding/aeronautical engineering spanning NI/Scotland/NE England? There are some excellent universities in those areas as well as huge corporate knowledge and existing facilities etc. A combination of MSc/BSc/apprenticeships would rejuvenate these areas and industries and form a focal point producing excellence, creating jobs, and deepening knowledge and experience.

  16. Posted November 30, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    So many would like to see genetic developments in tackling cancer .Long live research in this area.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      Indeed progress in this area is likely to be very rapid and most impressive, given our better understanding of genetics and the ability of computers to analyse this data.

    • stred
      Posted December 2, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      A lot of money is being spent on a centre of excellence for cancer research at Kings Cross. Unfortunately, although much more has been spent worldwide on cancer research, the progress made has been very limited. Much more progress has been made over the last 50 years in treating other diseases. There still is little understanding of how and why cancer occurs. This is why the University of Arizona has appointed Prof Paul Davies, a physicist to run their centre for new thinking. His lecture in London last year was very interesting. Have a look at their website. Research in other killer diseases is much harder to fund.

  17. BobE
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    London is a long way behind Oxford and Cambridge. A better triangle might be Oxford, Birmingham and Cambridge.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      Certainly Imperial College seemed to be very pro the quack global warming exaggeration industry the last I heard. Rather worrying for what used to be a college with a sensible high quality engineering & science department.

      • Posted December 1, 2014 at 1:31 am | Permalink

        All the world’s universities, all public research bodies, all national science bodies like the UK’s Royal Society are saying pretty much the same thing about the dangers of global warming.

        I’m not a climate scientist but from what I understand, the world’s temperatures will rise between 1.5degC and 4.5 degC if the world’s CO2 and other GH gases double in concentration as they are forecast to by the end of this century.

        It probably won’t be a smooth warming. It will at times seem to be level and at other times the graph will jump alarmingly.

        Of course we could be lucky and we’ll only have 1.5 degs of warming. But trusting to luck is probably not such a good idea. IMO.

        Better to listen to those scientists. We need do with better and safer nuclear power to achieve low cost and low CO2 energy. Even including the bad accidents like Chernobyl, the safety record of nuclear is very good. But with fourth and fifth generation reactors it could be so much better than anything else that the decision to go nuclear should be a ‘no-brainer’.

        • Lifelogic
          Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

          One degree seems about likely and that would be a net benefit to the world. The catastrophic warming endlessly predicted is based on invented/exaggerated positive feedback mechanisms that are clearly likely to be nonsense. Did they predict the last 17 years of no warming they did not?

          I agree better nuclear is the long term solution.

        • lojolondon
          Posted December 2, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          Climate change is total and utter garbage, the earth has not warmed since 1997, and none of the alarmists can explain why. But you are correct on nuclear – we have gone from world-leading to needing help from the French (with their dire track record on mechanical engineering and technology design!). Time to invest heavily in the energy of the future – nuclear and fracking.

        • stred
          Posted December 3, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

          Perhaps it would be a good idea for the Green Investment bank to invest in the American companies developing modular mini nukes so that we could avoid being stitched up when, perhaps, ordering some in ten years time.

          At the moment they are lending vast amounts to companies mashing up American trees, shipping them here and burning them- on the assumption that in 60 years time the Co2 will have been captured and then we can burn these too. There seems to be something missing in this argument.

  18. The Prangwizard
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Let us hope indeed that communications are improved, we do need it. and let us then hope that these ‘centres of excellence’ can produce some major businesses which the UK has signally failed to produce in recent decades.

    Most major consumer products and brands for example, both hard and soft, have been developed and exploited successfully by others; and we gave up our interests in numerous existing industries, being told at the time, that we didn’t need to make much or develop much ourselves as is was far easier to buy them from abroad. An arrogant attitude that lost hundreds of thousands of jobs and much wealth and prestige; encouraged of course by city spivs who wanted any business with any value to be sold as fast as possible. I think they and the government gave this the misleading title of ‘inward investment’. Money then continued to drain from the UK in cash flow and dividends.

  19. Gumpy Goat
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    John let us hear your support for the East West Rail http://www.eastwestrail.org.uk/
    Bring Oxford and Cambridge together by rail and Reading too

  20. Mondeo Man
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Centres of excellent – brilliant.

    Alas the nation’s general IQ has gone down.

    This is deliberately so in the name of inclusivity and the pursuit of the lowest common denominator rather than the highest – by normalising bad parenting (baby-fathers), drug taking, general stupidity and laziness.

    In many jobs and on many courses entry standards are dropped so that better candidates can be ignored because they are the wrong colour.

    The political class take care to protect their own offspring from all the worst effects.

  21. forthurst
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    A recent article in the DT highlighted a scheme at Cambridge whereby students with unpromising A levels earned at a bog standard were allowed to displace those with more promising results derived elsewhere; they were not, of course equiped to commence their courses, but were instead funded for a year at a crammer so that they could master such esoteric skills of the superbright as composing an essay.

    The method by which our universities are assessed by international comparisons includes the degree to which they are ‘open’ which in neo-liberal newspeak means the degree to which their courses are being given by those who are not English and taken likewise; this explains why some countries with exemplary engineering skills do not appear to have the academic institutions to match compared with ours. Our universities need to be recalibrated according to their success in educating English people who will stay here and add value rather that return abroad and add value there.

    If those engaged in research at our pre-eminent institutions claim they are wasting a lot of time travelling between them despite their increasing ability to communicate electronically, then there might be a case for improving travel links; however, the best contribution to future success would be to re-introduce grammar schools, nationally, and put the A and lower level exams back to their prior academic levels before social engineering via bog standards was given primacy. A further improvement would be to make the takeover of British businesses other than in extremis, unless it can be shown as mutually beneficial and not anti-competitive, very much harder since otherwise the financial rewards from creating added value will continue to accrue abroad, as was the case of the old badly run GEC which took over all its competition in the electrical and electronics engineering industries here, stripping out investment and innovation, and then merged these with foreign competitors, leaving this country almost bereft compared to our European competitors; this should be coupled with further fiscal encouragement for long term investment in businesses, particularly, nascent ones, and discouragement for short term gambling.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      There clearly is some merit in accepting slightly lower grades from a bog standard comp as these candidates may well have rather more potential that someone from Eton or Harrow with slightly higher grades.

      Clearly this needs to be measured in terms of later outcomes and suitably adjusted for. In my experience Cambridge do this rather well, certainly in science subjects.

      • John E
        Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        I used to think that it would be easier for someone from a Comprehensive to do well at Uni than someone from a Public School with equivalent grades. I thought they would now be competing on even terms against children who had been spoon fed.
        Sadly I have changed my mind. I underestimated the value of the disciplined work ethos, competitive spirit, and self confidence instilled by the Public Schools as well as the value of a stable upbringing.

      • forthurst
        Posted December 1, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        The point I was making was that however bright they were, they had not been prepared by their comp to commence a first degree at Cambridge, a situation that would not have arisen had they attended a grammar and been able to compete on equal terms; secondly, making allowances for an ‘inferior’ education does not strike me as an exact science.

        • Lifelogic
          Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

          I think you are perhaps wrong here. Perhaps the desire to earn money more quickly and the pressures from a family, a lack of funds and lack of contacts bear more on working class students than ones from wealthy families. Perhaps pushing them to work on the side or get a lucrative job earlier.

          I think however the statistics bear me out. Anyway they should adjust as the outcome statistics suggest.

          • forthurst
            Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

            “I think you are perhaps wrong here.”

            That they were not prepared for a Cambridge first degree? If that statement is not true, why were they sent to a crammer?

            That the situation would have been rectified by their having gone to a grammar? In the bad old days of grammars, a higher proportion of publicly educated pupils attended Oxbridge than now without social engineering.

            Making allowances for comps is unscientific? Cambridge is taking students who are not prepared to start a university course in favour of those that are; I do not see how it is possible to judge between poor teaching, poor motivation, or poor intellectual capacity in determining whether a specific individual should be accepted despite lower accomplishment.

  22. Lifelogic
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    What the country mainly needs by way of “Transport Links” are more roads. Most are hugely over crowded and come to a complete standstill/grid lock given the slightest incident. The government (for about thirty years) has been (and still are) actively blocking road for cars despite the fact that this is the way most people want to travel. This choice is also despite the huge tax/subsidy bias against cars. Without that even more would chose the roads.

    Contrary to BBC think Cars (especially full ones) are often superior to trains, bikes and walking in environmental, energy, cost, safely and general convenience terms.

  23. formula57
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I have seen the ” the science parks/ knowledge industry investments surrounding” Cambridge although not in the very recent past.

    There as you are no doubt aware the St. John’s Innovation Centre has long been seen as making a positive contribution and of course the efforts of local entrepreneurs like Herman Hauser have been of some significant. About 15 years ago a student society to encourage entrepreneurs was established in the University. There is ARM and there was Autonomy.

    Alas, there is not much, even today. The American academic AnnaLee Saxenian declared (albeit some 20 years ago or more) that Cambridge was not a cluster in the way Silicon Valley is because amongst other failings it was not successful in fostering cooperation and mutual help amongst entrepreneurs. The limitations were cultural as much as anything.

  24. Ian wragg
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just been reading Janet Daley in the ST re CMD and his speech on immigration. She is of the option that having made the speech that’s the end of the debate
    Together with the story in the Mail that number 10 wants to close down the subject and concentrate on the illusion of growth supported by an influx of half a million foreigners each year
    Fat chance. Tell us John, what parts of the speech are going to be implemented right away as apparently Millipede and Clog agree so what’s holding you back
    .
    Lack of spine no doubt and the fact our real ruler Murky says no

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      Election hot air, they have not done anything much on immigration from outside the EU.

  25. Bert Young
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Sorry I was unable to attend the seminar at All Souls . The topic for discussion and the participants were very interesting . The scientific activities in and around Oxford do need to be exploited more ; commercialisation of research in this part of the country has the potential to significantly add to the economy and to the employment of skilled labour . The one bit in the scenario I could not understand was the relationship of the extra houses at Blackbird Leys . I will wait and see what happens next .

  26. Iain Gill
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think these are the best uni’s in this country, far from it. They fail in many regards, the arrogance of their output and the nonsense curriculum of their PPE courses are obvious examples.
    As for “generate the more interesting better paid jobs which a first world economy needs” we already do generate these jobs, we just tend to fill them with cheap overseas nationals either here on one immigration wheeze or another, or outsource the jobs to those foreign locations.
    The real education bottleneck in this country is the sink schools on the sink estates, and the fact the parents have zero buying power in the relationship with schools, this is having a much bigger economic impact than anything you mention.

    • a-tracy
      Posted December 2, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Agreed Iain. Low expectations is the bane of our countries existence.

  27. A different Simon
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Oxford University leads the world in anointing future Prime Ministers and Presidents .

    – Tony Abbott (PPE Oxford)
    – Bill Clinton (PPE Oxford)
    – David Cameron (PPE Oxford)
    – David Miliband (PPE Oxford)

    Of course hundreds of people do PPE at Oxford and very few become premiers but the disproportionate number who take PPE at Oxford should be cause for concern for supporters of democracy .

    The students themselves seem to be indoctrinated and sent out as operatives to do the elite’s work around the world .

    Similarly one could view Goldman Sach’s as being a finishing school for central bankers .

    The whole thing appears rotten to the core yet there is nothing the man in the street can do to stop it .

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      With the exception of the excellent Tony Abbot they are all (or would be) a compete disaster.

      Interestingly all (except the dopey voice of envy and the state sector unions Mr Miliband) are left handed and all are male. The chances of this occurring at random from four random people is about 1 in 4500. (approx 10% being left handed)

  28. Robert Taggart
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Could we poor Northerners not have a ‘Centre of excellence’ ? – albeit an elongated one ?? – along the M62 perhaps ??? !

  29. a-tracy
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    ‘Golden Triangle’ – what about Warwick isn’t their STEM up to it?
    Isn’t there a ‘golden triangle’ anywhere other than London, so does Durham stand alone and then get less funding? What would this golden triangle get government funding and contract wise that the others wouldn’t? Why aren’t they all more enterprising? Give them more government funding and they don’t need to be ground breaking entrepreneurial do they?

    Reply This golden triangle is not the only exciting growth area the government backs. See also their northern hub, with better links from Manchester to Leeds.

    • Robert Taggart
      Posted December 3, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      Warwick/shire = the Midlands = No Mans Land ?

    • a-tracy
      Posted December 4, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Sorry John I’ve not heard anything to excite me business wise in Manchester to Leeds. If we’re talking trains you can’t get to the train links anyway from Cheshire, they wouldn’t allow the Metro to go to Stockport because they want to prop up an antiquated long journey time train that you have to travel miles out of your way now to get to Manchester.

      We rely too much on large Labour councils in the North West and the Conservatives washed their hands of it years ago to concentrate on their priorities, the Labour party don’t see business, enterprise, road systems and connections as a priority they’d rather concentrate on trying to block everything and introduce exclusion zones and 20mph areas outside of school open and close times to seize everywhere up. From what I’ve seen there has never been much collaboration between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull even though they are majority Labour run and could save money and create efficiencies working together and develop cross trade routes (there is a lot of business done across the Pennines in both directions). Why don’t their best universities talk of ‘golden rectangles’? I hate government picked prized ponies they should be streaking ahead anyway but they go soft.

  30. lojolondon
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    John, this is a pet peeve of mine. Want world-class, unbeatable cancer research? Oxford and Cambridge lead the world. Want to actually be TREATED for cancer? Every week we see an appeal for some British person to come up with a few hundred thousand dollars to travel to the USA for treatment.
    WHY? Why are we developing the technology, but the Americans are monetising it? Why are we missing out on providing this technology to our own citizens? Why do rich people from around the world travel to the Mayo Clinic instead of the John Ross??

    This is a massive lost opportunity, and someone in the Cabinet needs to care, and get involved and fix it. Finances should not be a problem, the £15 Billion we borrow every year to bribe foreign nations, the £15 Billion we borrow every year to give to the EU – cancel these massive drains on the economy and we can reduce our deficit AND pay for great projects like making British medical services world clas AND once again be the best place in the world – a worthy target, I am sure you will agree?

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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