MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XIX No. 5
March / April 2007
The Saga of the Struggle for Survival
of the Faculty Newsletter
The Management of Change: Institute Facing Key Issues in the Immediate Future
The More Things Change
the More They Stay the Same
Getting More Learning
out of Lecture and Recitation Time
Why Diversity Matters
The Martin Luther King, Jr.
Visiting Professor Program
Desired End State: Reaching the Goal
MLK, MIT, and Me: A Personal Essay
Recruiting Underrepresented
Minority Students to MIT
Filling the Pipeline
Faith vs. Fact in the Pursuit
of Fairness at MIT
Ode to William Wells
Stephen M. Meyer
CMI – A Bold Experiment
in International Partnership
Response to Prof. Sussman's Call
for Interdisciplinary Research
Appreciation for Special Edition
Faculty Newsletter
Cutting the Pie of Undergraduate Education
Getfit@mit with the FNL
Underrepresented Minorities at MIT
MIT Faculty:
Women and Underrepresented Minorities
Printable Version

CMI – A Bold Experiment in International Partnership

Edward F. Crawley

CMI, the Cambridge-MIT Institute, was envisioned as a bold experiment in international university cooperation. From the perspective of many of our faculty, the principle experiment was that of partnership – could two great peer universities work together, learn from one another, and create a whole greater than the sum of the parts? This view overlooks the arguably bolder experiment, that of learning how to accelerate innovation. This experiment asked: Could the two universities, working together and with many others, understand what it is that makes great universities engines of economic growth? And, could they then characterize it in such a way that others may understand it, and, if appropriate, incorporate aspects of the general learning into their own culture and practice. Reflecting on the history of CMI, I would consider it a success, in that we clearly completed the first of these two experiments, and learned a great deal from the second.

CMI came about in 2000, when Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology joined in partnership to create the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI).

At the request of its principal sponsor, the U.K. government, its mission was to work with other U.K. institutions in a collaborative effort to enhance the competitiveness, productivity, and entrepreneurship of the U.K. economy by stimulating innovation. We identified, refined, and codified approaches to accelerating innovation by improving knowledge exchange between universities and industry.

Overall, we explored “making a difference” in three main areas:

• Education for Innovation
• Knowledge Integration in Research
• Engaging Industry in Knowledge Exchange

The direct outcomes of our programs – research discoveries, commercializable outcomes, students educated, new educational programs created, new links with industry, innovation networks created, etc. – constitute the first type of benefits to the U.K. The direct outcomes emerged from more than 110 projects in the three program areas described above.

We seeded these programs with experiments built on three main hypotheses about how to improve industry-university interaction, and operated a program on the Study of Innovation in Knowledge Exchange (SIKE) to monitor these experiments. The SIKE program examined our programs, and other important efforts throughout the U.K., and identified patterns of behavior that support innovation. This lead to a second type of benefit of CMI, the general outcomes.

Back to top

Education for Innovation

The CMI Education for Innovation programs helped to accelerate innovation by creating programs to give learners the resources to perform effectively in their roles as knowledge exchange agents, innovators, and potential future entrepreneurs. These programs were developed by investment in postgraduate degree programs, new course offerings, and educational research programs at the undergraduate level, and a range of workshops and other non-degree offerings for students and professionals. Among the lasting products of this investment are the six innovative new Masters degree programs at Cambridge. These programs combine enterprise with technology, and have already graduated 347 students.

In the Cambridge-MIT Exchange – the first direct exchange by either institution – 425 students spent full academic years in the partner institution, building both institutions’ engagement of students in learning.

Few of us who teach upper class subjects in departments engaged in the exchange have not felt the influence of these exchange students in class. More subtly, at least 1,850 students at MIT and Cambridge have been involved to date in undergraduate programs influenced by CMI, including a new major at MIT in Biological Engineering and a new Engineering for Life Sciences specialization at Cambridge. One-hundred-fifty U.K. students engaged in undergraduate research placements facilitated by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), and 625 students, drawn from all regions of the U.K., have so far participated in student entrepreneurship workshops.

The generalized learning from these efforts is simple and quite important. If universities are to prepare students to be innovators, they simply must do the best job possible to ensure student learning in three domains. (1) The university should ensure that the students develop a deep conceptual understanding of the fundamentals – so that they can later manipulate this understanding to develop new concepts. (2) The university should ensure that the students learn the appropriate skills – including various modes of thought and how to work together. (3) The university should create opportunities for “pre-entrepreneurial” learning – how to understand needs, create product concepts, work towards delivering an outcome. Underlying this learning, is a need to develop in students a self-confidence in their abilities to apply new knowledge; for students who are confident in their abilities are more likely to take risks, and risk is an essential aspect of innovation.

Knowledge Integration in Research

The goals of the CMI research program were to develop new ideas, with potential contribution to competitiveness, and to educate students who will be potential carriers of these ideas to industry and entrepreneurial enterprise. The investment covered core areas of the economy where the U.K. has a competitive position or strategic national need – energy, communications, transport, health care – as well as pre-competitive and emerging areas such as micro electrical mechanical systems (MEMS), stem cells, nanotechnology, and quantum technologies.

The general learning from this program was that a strong “consideration of use” enhances the impact of research on competitiveness. Researchers should consider the needs of society and industry in the selection and design of their research.

Likewise, it is vital that researchers maintain a strong connection to underlying science, so that they can understand when to “pull through” important new ideas. We emphasized Knowledge Integration in Research – which takes a more integrated view of research intended to impact innovation and competitiveness, and recognizes the important role of knowledge exchange by mainstreaming both the education of students and interaction with industry.

The most focused manifestation of this approach in CMI was the creation of Knowledge Integration Communities or KICs. These were larger research programs that explicitly involved external stakeholders from industry, government, or nongovernmental organizations. Ideally, a KIC also had strong links to an educational program, drew in elements of the industrial supply chain, and included innovations in knowledge exchange. While KICs centered on collaborative research teams at Cambridge and MIT, they also included participants at other universities in the U.K. The intent was to bring together in the integrated community all the participants needed to address the challenge, and to accelerate innovation.

An example of a research project that grew into a KIC is in Quantum Technologies. This network of scientists and engineers at Cambridge and MIT who work with industry, investors, government agencies, and other universities, wanted to accelerate the commercialization of this evolving technology based on quantum science. Quantum devices such as computers, clocks, and communications systems could be more powerful than today’s conventional systems. Realizing the commercial opportunities of quantum technology will require a high degree of interdisciplinary collaboration, and greater public understanding. This community collaborated with the U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology to convene a cross-sector group to identify industry standards for quantum information processing – essential to the future commercial prospects of this revolutionary new technology. Participating organizations include Toshiba, Hitachi, Quantum Information Partners, Thales, the U.K. Department of Trade and Industry, and MagiQ. We chose to highlight the Quantum KIC to emphasize that even in areas that might be perceived as more fundamental or pre-competitive, consideration of use and the building of integrated communities can accelerate progress towards commercial innovation.

Back to top

Engaging Industry in Knowledge Exchange

The CMI programs for Engaging Industry in Knowledge Exchange were designed to actively engage industry in the practice of knowledge exchange and to ensure that the output of universities flow naturally to competitive impact. In pursuit of these objectives, CMI created a series of mechanisms to support and facilitate the spanning of boundaries among the university, industry, and government sectors. This has included the creation of and support for both organizational and digital networks to facilitate knowledge exchange, the development and refinement of processes for university-industry engagement, and programs to educate professionals operating at the university-industry interface. In total, CMI has supported roughly 150 networking events, including workshops, conferences, and professional education programs, engaging close to 10,000 participants.

The general learning which emerged can be summarized by three factors which enhance the engagement of industry in knowledge exchange: actively engaging industry in prolonged interactions around research and education that addresses their needs; educating and empowering people involved in knowledge exchange, including students and professionals; and, most importantly, promoting a culture that values interaction between the university and industry. An important outcome codified by CMI is the process of Systematic Dialog. In this engagement process, the high level needs of an industry or sector are understood first by listening, and only then by responding with ideas of how the university might help. Using a metaphor of an intellectual supply chain, this allows the beneficiary to “pull knowledge through” rather than put the university in the role of “pushing knowledge out.”


The outcomes of CMI are not necessarily immediate, and will continue to have an impact for decades. While CMI was primarily a partnership of two universities, we worked with many sectors, organizations, and universities in the U.K. CMI had substantial interactions with 103 of the 114 U.K. universities. We engaged with 915 U.K. industrial organizations (of which more than 475 participated in more than one CMI activity) and with all of the U.K. regional development agencies and devolved authorities in the U.K., as well as 33 U.K. national government organizations.

If asked for our summary finding, I would reply that:

It is an integrated system of activities at a universitythe constructive interplay of education and research and formal and informal engagement with industry and enterprise – that has the greatest potential to substantially enhance knowledge exchange and accelerate innovation.

This conclusion stresses the interaction of these activities, which obviously include direct engagement with industry and enterprise, and a broad and focused research effort. More critically, the finding emphasizes that knowledge exchange builds upon and integrates the long-standing role of the university in education. This finding also highlights the need for informal and human interactions with industry, supported by more formal mechanisms such as publication and licensing, which are a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for effective knowledge exchange.

Back to top
Send your comments