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‘MIT of the north’ idea revived by Labour’s shadow minister

 Image: Keir Starmer [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0], via Flickr

North England should have an equivalent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says Yvette Cooper

A Labour shadow minister has said the UK should “have been setting up an MIT for the north in Manchester or in Leeds”—referring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US—instead of allowing the continued technology dominance of the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Oxford, Cambridge and London.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, was speaking to academics in a newly published interview for a research project on UK regional policy by Harvard University. The interview was conducted on 30 May 2022 but was published alongside the study last week.

The same study quoted the levelling up secretary Michael Gove as saying there had been “a wrangle with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy over R&D spending” and the uplift in such spending under the current government.

Gove said there was “institutional resistance” from Beis, which thought that spending on regional R&D was “not necessarily the best way of stimulating GDP growth overall” and that “we should bet on that which is successful and double down on the Golden Triangle”.

“It took quite a lot of wrangling and persuasion…to get them to change that,” he said.

MIT of the north

One of the mooted ideas that did not make it into policy was setting up a big new technological university in the north of England.

“If you want to tackle the scale of the regional inequalities—and the need to not have everything across the whole economy sucked into London but instead have strong regional growth across the north of England—you just needed a much bigger, coordinated push,” Cooper said.

“We should have been driving transport links between Manchester and Leeds so that you could build a much bigger labour market. We should have been setting up an MIT for the north in Manchester or in Leeds, rather than just allowing Oxford- and Cambridge-centred university-driven technological development in a circuit around London.

“We should have said, ‘No we need intervention to have a big MIT for the north.’”

She added: “It needed a big push to pull everything together, to drive big progress…I think you’ve just got to be prepared to do big things.”

The Labour Party is pollsters’ favourite to win the next general election in the UK. An MIT of the north is not currently one of their publicly known policies.

Research Professional News has approached Labour and Cooper for comment.