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U.K. Panel Seeks $1.5 Billion to Extend Alvey Computer Project

LONDON—Britain needs to spend $1.5 billion on information technology research and applications to extend the results of the Alvey program now underway, according to a new report from a committee of government, academic and university administrators. The so-called IT 86 committee, formed early last year, has recommended $800 million in further research and $700 million for applications programs over an unspecified five-year period. Of the total for research, $75 million would be allocated a

By | January 26, 1987

LONDON—Britain needs to spend $1.5 billion on information technology research and applications to extend the results of the Alvey program now underway, according to a new report from a committee of government, academic and university administrators.

The so-called IT 86 committee, formed early last year, has recommended $800 million in further research and $700 million for applications programs over an unspecified five-year period. Of the total for research, $75 million would be allocated among academic researchers. The funds would help to relieve the current financial crisis, especially with respect to new equipment and facilities, facing most universities.

The government should contribute about one-fourth of the total amount to be spent on applications and more than one-half of the total for research, the report explained, with industry supplying the remainder. Its contribution would include continued participation in the Esprit program, a collaborative effort with other members of the European Community on various high-technology projects.

The committee's proposals are designed to ensure that results from the five-year Alvey program, scheduled to end in 1989, are carried forward. Alvey has established several collaborative research programs between uiniversities and industries of a type previously unknown in Britain. It covers ground similar to the Fifth Generation program in Japan, including artificial intelligence, the interaction of humans and machines, and improved hardware and software. The government has contributed more than 60 percent of the $700 million already allocated to Alvey.

Government officials have asked for comments to be submitted by the end of the month, and hope to respond formally to the recommendations in February. No starting date for the new effort has been specified. The committee has recommended that a new body within the Department of Trade and Industry administer the program, with guidance from a panel of industrial leaders.

The report discusses at length the education and training needs of the information technology industry. It cites a survey in which 20 percent of software users, and 25 percent of suppliers, declared they have been crippled by a shortage of trained staff.

A partial solution to the problem may be this month's opening of Britain's first industry-supported higher education institute devoted to the field. The new institute, based in Milton Keynes north of London, draws on the contributions of 25 information companies and the support of the Cranfield Institute of Technology in Bedfordshire.

The new graduate school hopes to offer a flexible curriculum in tune to the needs of its industrial sponsors, turning out graduates with the proper combination of computer skills. As company secretary Alistair Lockhart observed, "no one we've talked to has said that we can't help them."

Stansell is a freelance science writer in London.

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