• Former Pizza Express chairman joins University of London
• Argues academia should be profit-driven
A self-styled “unrepentant capitalist” has taken up his post as chair of the University of London’s Institute of Cancer Research and called for universities to further embrace commercialisation.
Luke Johnson, an entrepreneur with a reported net worth of £150m, told Times Higher Education magazine that universities in the UK were increasingly embracing entrepreneurship and commercialisation, but could still do more. He argued that exploiting the economic benefits of research would help institutions “wean themselves off ” taxpayer funding.
Johnson, who currently runs a private equity firm, added that it was“notentirelyabadthing”that in universities “there are going to be some efficiencies made and more emphasis on productivity and returns.”
Questioning whether the thrill of discovery is incentive enough for academics, Johnson said: “Universities have got to be a bit more willing to let some of their researchers get rich because otherwise, the risk is that they will break away.”
He added that “at the end of the day you can’t deny the profit motive among individuals.”
A spokesperson from the University and College Union responded to the comments by saying the reduction in public spending on teaching and research meant they expected some universities “will be wooed by, or even actively pursue, big business”. However, they warned that strong public funding was the only way to “guarantee real innovation that benefits society and of course the economy rather than the often short- term interests and fads and fashions of big business.”
Michael Chessum, president of the University of London Union, said: “Johnson’s argument is basically that wealth should be centralised in education towards whoever’s output is most marketable, not allocated on the basis of making education accessible or making teaching better. This is precisely the logic that is ruining the university sector.”
“Education is a social good: it should be run in the interests of everyone in society – and the market does not reflect social reality.”
The Institute of Cancer Research said Johnson, who studied physiology at Oxford, would “direct his trademark dynamism and business acumen” to the role.