Strong measures to save Imperial College from indirect costs have ruffled scientists’ feathers

LONDON--When the tall, spare frame of David Thomas glides into their laboratories, even the crustiest dons at London University’s Imperial College quake inside their tweed coats. For Thomas is the college’s ghost of Christmas future, warning of impending ruin unless scientists mend their financial ways.

His message, preached with Welsh fervor, is simple. Imperial College and other British research universities are in far worse shape than their U.S. counterparts. Instead of suffering from a few crumbling facilities, they are actually teetering on the brink of bankruptcy—and it’s the scientists’ own fault. “UK contractors have been getting us on the cheap for too long,” says Thomas, the college’s relatively new director of industrial liaison.

David Thomas is dragging reluctant scientists into a brave new era, one in which professors are viewed more like members of a management team...

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