UPDATE: Huge gift to deepen Purdue role in development

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When Purdue University announces tomorrow it has received its largest single research gift, the school will further cement its role in boosting the state’s economy, one expert says.

“One of the biggest discoveries of economic impact studies between schools and the economy is the school’s role in commercialization,” said Patrick Barkey, an economist and director of economic and policy study at the College of Business at Ball State University.

Purdue says it will announce “a major new program to promote economic development that will be funded through the largest single gift for research the university has ever received."

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported today that the gift is from the Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Biomedical Engineering, and that at least two public and private schools have rejected gifts from the foundation.

Purdue would be the first public university in the country to sign a deal with the Mann Foundation, which has been trying to give $100 million endowments to schools to finance commercialization of their inventions, the Chronicle said.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University turned down a similar gift from the foundation a year ago, the Chronicle said. At the time, the schools said the foundation’s requirement to choose the most promising inventions would conflict with other research agreements.

The foundation requires that the money be put into a separate not-for-profit entity, the Alfred Mann Institute, which would be jointly controlled by the foundation and the school, the Chronicle said.

Barkey wasn’t familiar with the Mann Foundation or its reported controversial caveats that schools that take its money cede some control over its spending to the foundation.

Barkey said that while there’s no question the gift would be monetarily significant, it’s important to not jump to the bottom line and look at the total dollars given.

“It’s more interesting how spending occurs,” he said, explaining that a university involved in commercializing its inventions can forge relationships with outside companies that otherwise might not have had a chance to form.

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