Other countries are threatening US leadership in research and unless that shift is stemmed, the US will face grave economic consequences, according to a new report released by the National Research Council (NRC). In response, the council has begun a campaign to strengthen US research universities so that they retain their leading role in an increasingly competitive world.
- strengthening the existing partnership between researchers and funders, for example, by increasing federal and state funding and making universities more cost-effective;
- addressing particular problems facing research universities, such as federal research funding not covering the full cost of projects and coming with burdensome regulations; and
- getting more researchers through the educational pipeline by improving science education in primary and secondary schools, attracting more women and minorities, and changing immigration laws.
"These are all interesting and important recommendations," said Mark. S. Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis. Especially significant, according to Wrighton, is the call for relationships between universities and businesses to move from that of supplier and customer to "more of a peer-to-peer nature, stressing collaboration."
Steven Fluharty, senior vice-provost of research at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed. "This is a very, very important and timely report," he said. To him, the number one recommendation is perhaps the recognition that "we need much greater stability and predictability in funding for research."
But others find the council’s recommendations a bit stale. "Basically, the report is saying things that people have been saying before," noted Steven G. Clarke, biochemistry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. "These are things we are working on all the time. There are things that are already on the top of our list."
While Wrighton and Fluharty acknowledge this, they believe the recent fallout from reduced research funding makes the arguments particularly compelling right now. "It comes at a time when it is clear that we are going to have to reset priorities," said Wrighton.
But that may be an optimistic view of what is possible in the political climate in Washington today. For instance, although the report was asked for by a bi-partisan group of lawmakers, Congress did not make any money available for the effort. Instead the NRC tapped private sources such as the Sloan Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation to pay for the project.
Over the next year, the council will hold workshops around the country to drum up support for those recommendations.