Editor Alun Thorne spoke to Professor Lord Bhattacharyya on why he is about to put his own money where his mouth has long been.
The growth of Warwick Manufacturing Group is one of region’s great success stories.
Launched 30 years ago at the University of Warwick’s campus off the A45 on the outskirts of Coventry, it can now truly consider itself a global leader in technological innovation with its influence felt across all four corners of the globe.
The driving force behind WMG’s success (as it is now known) is its founder and relentless advocate Kumar Bhattacharyya who arrived at the university in 1980 as a mere doctor and is now better known as Prof Lord Bhattacharyya, Baron of Moseley thanks to his work in helping to create one of the UK’s most important educational facilities and advising companies to governments around the world. Now the relationship between Lord Bhattacharyya and the university is set to be further cemented after the academic pledged a five-year programme of personal donations to the university that will eventually total £1m – including an annual award for the researcher who has achieved the most in a given year.
“This is the first time I have donated money to the university but I have been at the university for 30 years and the university has been very loyal to me and I have been very loyal to them,” said Lord Bhattacharyya.
“When I came in I had just a table and a chair and it was a pretty catastrophic time, but over the years the university has built up to be one of the best in the country.
“The investment in the five buildings at WMG alone has been £150million and the group has paid for most of it now and we are the largest in the world in our areas of expertise and now truly international with centres across the globe. I said to myself that I wanted to do something for the university to ensure that it remains a leader in science and technology research and that is why I have decided to establish this new trust. This university has been surrounded by much bigger universities but the phenomenal growth we have enjoyed has seen it rise right to the top of the league tables and that is something that I and I think that everybody at the university should be very proud.”
WMG was formed three decades ago as an academic multi-disciplinary unit of the University of Warwick with a mission to reinvigorate UK manufacturing through the application of cutting edge research and effective knowledge transfer.
As well as working closely with some of the UK’s most important manufacturers such as Jaguar Land Rover, WMG also runs teaching and research centres in Hong Kong, India, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
The work of WMG and Lord Bhattacharyya’s close links with the political and industrial elite – he was made a Labour peer in 2004 – have also ensured the WMG enjoys the kind of profile that other universities could only dream of.
“Our first building, the Advanced Technology Centre, was opened by Mrs Thatcher, and Tony Blair launched his first election campaign in our International Manufacturing Centre,” said Lord Bhattacharyya. “When Gordon Brown was being elected as the new head of the party he also launched his campaign here and then recently he came back to launch his campaign for the forthcoming election.
“Over the years we have won a multitude of awards and after starting from such small beginnings, it now employs upwards of 300 people. We currently have 600 masters students enrolled and we have seen more than 1,000 previously through the door as well as countless doctorates. The recently appointed chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover did his doctorate here so the students who come here are of the very highest calibre.
“This centre is hugely important to the future of the region’s economy and I am determined to do what I can to ensure that we remain at the heart of the new technologies and innovations that will drive the region in the years to come.
“The fund will inspire and support the best research at the University of Warwick. However, I also hope my personal financial contribution underlines how serious I am when I call on businesses and government to enhance the support they provide to UK researchers.”
Professor Nigel Thrift, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, said: “This is an extremely generous financial commitment by Professor Lord Bhattacharyya. It will provide significant support to some of Warwick’s most innovative research endeavours”.