A MAJOR reason for Vice-Chancellor Brian Cantor’s appointment to the University was his experience as a commercial fix-it man, with a history of setting up successful businesses and science parks. This lead to his appointment in 2002 once Heslington East plans were underway.
An informed source within the University revealed that Brian Cantor had set up a successful Science Park in Begbroke, as part of the University of Oxford’s development plans, and that this experience was a vital qualification for the new VC because of the University’s plans to commercially build on the greenbelt.
However, a report published by a York academic demonstrates that the University has a poor record with its current Science Park. It concludes: “The majority of tenants have not been chosen on the basis of their need to link to academic departments elsewhere on campus. It seems highly likely that the tenants are chosen simply because they are prepared to pay premium rental rates.”
Simon Newton, the University’s new Director of Enterprise and Innovation, confirmed that there have been only two or three spin-off companies a year and that the University only takes a “minimum stake” in them.
The Science Park report suggests that there is enough existing capacity on the present site to house new spin-offs for “decades to come” and “that any new property development planned for Heslington East is being planned for commercial reasons.” Campus Three is therefore a way of grabbing greenbelt land for commerce. The Heslington East plans consist of a 54 per cent increase in actual student numbers, but a massive 436 per cent increase of other people on campus. Businesses, under the guise of Science City staff, will be 38 per cent of the new campus. Yet the ethos of placing industry next to academics has been condemned as spurious, especially as the University has lost virtually all control over the current Science Park.
Moreover, a national report aired June 10th by the Times Higher Educational Supplement into spin-off companies, has shown that universities “significantly overestimate the number they generate” and that in fact “creation[s] peaked in 2001 with 89 new companies. The number fell to just 30 in 2003.” This illustrates that just a quarter of spin-off companies are actually profitable.
However, the University are pressing on with the planned Science City development and newly appointed Director of Enterprise, Simon Newton, demonstrated their commercial priority, stating: I believe the University is well positioned to really make an impact in its relationships with industry and the public sector.”