Innovation is the strong driver of economic growth, new industries and jobs, and a high standard of living, both in the United States and globally. In the last half-century, innovation in turn has been increasingly driven by educated people and the knowledge they produce, particularly though scientific and technological research and development. In the United States, the primary source of the new knowledge and talented individuals who apply it to achieve our security, health, prosperity, and other national goals continues to be the basic research and graduate education programs of our nation’s research universities.
America’s research universities, with the strong and sustained support of government and working in partnership with American industry and philanthropy, are widely recognized as the best in the world, admired for both their research and their education. They are, however, confronted by many forces: the economic challenges faced by the nation and the states, the emergence of global competitors, changing demographics, and rapidly evolving technologies. Even as other nations around the world have emulated the United States in building research universities, America’s commitment to sustaining the research partnership that has helped power our economy has weakened.
Federal policies no longer place a priority on university research and graduate education; because of economic challenges and the priorities of aging populations, states no longer are either capable of supporting or willing to support their public research universities at world-class levels; business and industry have largely dismantled the large corporate research laboratories that drove American industrial leadership in the twen-
tieth century (e.g., Bell Labs), but have not yet fully partnered with our research universities to fill the gap; and research universities themselves have failed to achieve the cost efficiency and productivity enhancement in teaching and research required of an increasingly competitive world.
Yet a time of crisis can also stimulate a call to action. We have reached a fork in the road at which critical decisions about the future of American higher education must be made. The actions we take in the next few years will determine whether our children and grandchildren will have well-paying jobs and whether our nation will continue to have a vibrant economy, and a healthy and secure populace. It is essential that, at this fork, we as a nation take the path that reaffirms, revitalizes, and strengthens substantially the unique partnership that has long existed among the nation’s research universities, the federal government, the states, and business and industry.
At this time in history, the United States faces a range of important challenges: economic recovery and growth, budget deficits, unemployment, security challenges, and spiraling health care costs. These issues must be addressed. Yet the United States can also utilize and leverage a range of extraordinary assets that will allow us to create our own destiny in the 21st century. Among those assets are our nation’s research universities, which can help us address our short-term challenges even as they create new opportunities. The United States can best leverage research universities for the breakthroughs it needs for the high-end jobs, increasing middle-class incomes, and the security, health, and prosperity we expect, by ensuring these institutions are properly resourced; increasingly productive, agile, and innovative; and working creatively in partnership with business.