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Updated 2:00 PM February 11, 2005
 

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America's future competitiveness
No hitting the snooze button, Coleman says

In the race to translate research and technology into business opportunities, President Mary Sue Coleman told an audience of 1,800 technology managers that the nation's universities must get up and get moving.

"America's wake-up call is now," Coleman told members of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) at the organization's annual meeting in Phoenix Feb. 3. "We no longer are in that privileged position as the unchallenged powerhouse of productivity and ingenuity."

Continuing a theme outlined by a comprehensive report from the Council on Competitiveness—which Coleman helped introduce last month (see: http://www.umich.edu/~urecord/0405/Jan10_05/06.shtml)—the president said innovation is the only means by which the United States can regain its competitive edge in the global marketplace. The National Innovation Initiative report issued in January outlined a number of strategies for improving the economic climate in the United States, and said educational institutions are key to returning the nation to prosperity.

"But as the economic development spotlight shines more brightly on universities, it will challenge the whole academy to be more nimble, more responsive and more focused, without losing sight of our core mission to freely discover new knowledge and to share it widely with the world," Coleman said.

A first step is to offer America bold new educational strategies, she said. Inherent in this premise is the reality that more citizens must be educated so that they can compete in a knowledge economy.

Coleman also said diversity in the workforce and the scientific community is critical to economic vitality, and a commitment to diversity nationwide must begin with universities.

The president told AUTM members technology transfer is important to economic growth but should be about more than the bottom line.

"It is not about the promise of future revenues that might be generated from this activity," she said. "For me, the core question is not 'Can we profit from the commercialization of this idea?' but rather, 'What is the best way to get this idea into the hands of the world?'"

Coleman concluded her talk by outlining what she called four steps to accelerate innovation:

• The nation must renew its commitment to research funding—the federal government, the states, the corporate world and the private sector all need to commit more dollars to the effort

• Partnerships must be formed between government, higher education and business

• Higher education must commit to innovation inside the academy through interdisciplinary work from such areas as biology, nanotechnology, information sciences and engineering, among others

• University incentives and policies with regard to innovation must be consistent with values and goals, such that protection of intellectual property is not "strangling the free exchange of ideas" and ideas are treated as more than a commodity.

"We know the old models will not work," Coleman said. "We need new approaches—a new roadmap for our future economic development.

"The time to innovate is now we are getting a wake up call and the front desk won't try again in 15 minutes."

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