Exporting the Entrepreneurial University:

MIT and Its World Wide Reach since 1950

At the invitation of the Department of History and the Ghent Centre for Global Studies, Prof. Robert Kargon of Johns Hopkins University will give a talk in the hot topic lecture series of the UGent Doctoral Schools.

The lecture will start at 6:00pm in the Jozef Plateau lecture hall (Jozef Plateaustraat 22, Ghent) and is open to anyone.

The lecture will take place at the eve of the Conference on “Academic entrepreneurship in history” (12-13 March 2015, the STAM city museum in Ghent), organized by the History Departments of Ghent University, the ULB – Free University of Brussels, the University of Lille 3 and the University of Bologna.


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) emerged from World War II with a reputation in research and education for providing an essential element in America’s economic and military strength. Impressed with the multidisciplinary triumphs of the Radiation Laboratory at MIT and the Manhattan District Project, nations around the world and states within the U.S. itself sought to replicate their successes. Within MIT, its visionary dean of engineering, Gordon Brown, sought to refashion its curriculum and its research divisions better to integrate basic science with technological prowess. The aim was to produce knowledge and experts in order to contribute to national and regional economic and military success. Owing to fierce opposition from departments, Brown met with only partial victory within the Institute itself. However, seeking a blank slate on which to plan the new entrepreneurial university, Brown and his allies at MIT turned to overseas opportunities, first in India and then to two authoritarian states, Iran (under the Shah) and Spain (under Francisco Franco) to put their ideas into effect.

This lecture will describe and explain the results of these efforts, arguably successful in India and Iran, and a failure in Spain. In India, MIT participated in the creation of the government’s Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur and in the privately organized Birla Institute of Technology and Science. In Iran the new Arya Mehr University of Technology was constructed in terms of broad open-ended divisions instead of departments: energy, information, food, materials, etc. To the Shah’s consternation, the Arya Mehr University became a center of revolutionary activity, and subsequently became the leading educator of Iran’s technostructure. In Spain, Brown and the MIT leadership allied themselves with the technocratic last cabinet of the Franco regime. They envisioned a graduate-only institution that would be, in their words, “the dual of MIT”. The project was named the “Technological Institute for Postgraduates” or ITP. Franco’s death and the subsequent public reaction against the Falange Party doomed the ITP.

The lecture will illustrate the legacy of this concept of the entrepreneurial university (“knowledge for use”) in two of MIT’s ongoing efforts: Masdar (Abu Dhabi), and Skolkovo (Russia). Masdar is a new, planned city whose centerpiece is the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, the Arab world’s first research-driven, graduate-only science and technology institute. The Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (SkolTech) near Moscow likewise is a postgraduate university planned and developed with the guidance of MIT. Finally, the talk will conclude with a comparative evaluation of the above-mentioned initiatives and the internationalization efforts of several other American universities, including Yale and New York University. It will be argued that, unlike some of these other institutions, the foreign undertakings of MIT are seen from within as pilot projects to improve the research-education-market nexus rather than attempts to build a corporate empire.


Robert Kargon is the Willard K. Shepard Professor of the History of Science at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. His recent research centers upon the “second industrial revolution,” circa 1870-1920, especially science and technology in the urban context, and their social, political and cultural consequences in the United States and internationally. His books include, among others: Urban Modernity: Cities and Innovation in an Era of International Cultural Change (MIT Press, 2010, with M. Levin); Invented Edens: Techno-Cities of the Twentieth Century (MIT Press, 2008, with A. Molella), The Rise of Robert Millikan: A Life in American Science (Cornell University Press, 1982); and Science in Victorian Manchester: Enterprise and Expertise (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977). His ongoing research on the internationalization efforts of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology adds to his earlier article “Exporting MIT: Science, Technology, and Nation‐Building in India and Iran” (2006, with S. Leslie).