The Global Competitive Landscape
The global research landscape also is in transition. When EPSCoR was launched in the late 1970s, the U.S. scientific community was first in the world in virtually every category of assessment and faced no significant risks to its top ranking. While the nation retains many advantages, its preeminent status is no longer unchallenged. Emerging economies have adopted policies that have led to dramatic changes in the global scientific landscape—and the pace of change seems to be accelerating. China, which has increased its investment in science and technology by more than 20 percent a year over the past two decades, now has a scientific workforce comparable in size to that of the United States. Other countries, including Brazil and India, are also rapidly strengthening their research capabilities.
In light of these developments, EPSCoR may face a greater need to defend its budget. Whether the nation is best served by diversifying scientific capacity or by concentrating on a few centers of excellence in selected thematic areas may prove central to the size and shape of future EPSCoR appropriations.
Declining Research Budgets
Budget concerns—both at the federal and state levels—also pose difficulties for EPSCoR managers and beneficiaries. Sustaining the gains in research capacity that have been made to date may prove problematic as federal, state, and private R&D funding declines.17 As a result, if EPSCoR is to fulfill its promise as a catalyst, at some point eligible states must sustain and expand their research capacity with funds from sources other than EPSCoR. This goal may become more difficult to achieve in an environment marked by sharp cutbacks in state funding for universities in general and research more specifically. In these austere times, it will become increasingly important to coordinate investments between the state and federal governments, and across all sectors of society, to attain a greater efficiency in efforts to improve state and regional scientific competitiveness.
17 Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Future (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006).