U.S. should strengthen support of research universities, report says
A broad panel of leaders from the private sector and academia, including U-M President Emeritus James Duderstadt, has concluded that while American research universities are essential for U.S. prosperity and security, they risk serious decline unless the federal government, states and industry work to ensure adequate, stable funding in the next decade.
Former U-M President James Duderstadt (right) speaksThursday at the release of a new report titled "Research Universities and the Future of America." Duderstadt was part of the Committee on Research Universities that wrote the report after two years of hearings and discussions. Also pictured are Dr. Francisco Cigarroa (left), chancellor of the University of Texas System, andRonald Ehrenberg, director of Cornell University's Higher Education Research Institute. (Photo by Mike Waring, Washington Office)
A new report issued Thursday in Washington, D.C., by the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering, also says universities must meet "bold goals" to contain costs, enhance productivity and improve educational pathways to careers both within and beyond academia.
"Just in the last few decades, university research has led to such developments as computers, the Internet, automated manufacturing, alternative energy technologies, advanced materials, and the entire field of biotechnology, to name just a few," says Stephen Forrest, U-M vice president for research. "This is a stunning return on investment that must be maintained now more than ever if our nation is to sustain its competitive advantage."
Congress requested the report, which was written by a committee that includes industry CEOs, university presidents, a former U.S. senator, and a Nobel laureate. It recommends 10 strategic actions that the nation should take in the next five to 10 years to maintain top-quality U.S. research institutions.
The goals articulated in the report are consistent with those promoted by U-M President Mary Sue Coleman and Provost Phil Hanlon.
In her open letter to President Obama on college affordability last December, Coleman called upon "elected officials, university presidents, business leaders, philanthropists and parents to collaborate on effective answers" to rising college costs.
Hanlon said he was encouraged to see so many of the steps being taken at U-M — cutting costs, increasing efficiencies, reducing attrition in doctoral programs — reflected in the report.
Federal funding for research has flattened or declined, the committee found, and state funding for research institutions also has dropped, forcing U.S. colleges to raise tuition, and threatening to put a college education out of reach for many. At the same time, other countries have increased R&D funding and are pouring significant resources into their own institutions.
"In recent years, public universities have lost 25 percent of their state support. That state support is important and is in the national interest if we want to keep the quality of these universities high," said Duderstadt, who also is University Professor of Science and Engineering.
The report's recommendations include:
• Congress and the administration should fully fund the America COMPETES Act, doubling the level of basic research conducted by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, and National Institutes of Standards and Technology; and at least maintain current levels of funding for basic research across other federal agencies.
• States should strive to restore and maintain per-student funding for higher education to levels equal to the period of 1987-2002, as adjusted for inflation.
• The federal government should invest in infrastructure — particularly cyber-infrastructure — that has the potential for improving productivity in administration, research, and academic programs.
• Research universities must significantly increase cost-effectiveness and productivity in both operations and academic programs.
• Universities should make doctoral programs more effective by reducing attrition and the time it takes to obtain degrees, and by aligning the programs with the careers inside and outside of academia.
• Businesses, which rely on research universities for talent and technology, also should play a bigger role in ensuring their health.
• Federal and state policies should encourage collaboration between U.S. national laboratories, businesses, and universities in order to enable large-scale, sustained research projects.
— This article also contains information from a National Academies news release.