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NRC Pushes Investment in U.S. Research Universities

If the United States is to remain globally competitive, a new report from the National Research Council says more public dollars need to flow into the country's research universities and institutions should become more efficient.

The call to increase investment in higher education comes in Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation's Prosperity and Security, released by the policy arm of the nonprofit, Washington-based National Academies last week. The recommendations were made in response to a request from the U.S. Congress in 2009 to assess the competitive position of America's research universities, both public and private.

The report notes that research universities face critical pressures including: "unstable revenue streams, demographic shifts in the U.S. population, changes in the organization and scale of research, and shifting relationships between research universities, government, and industry." (State funding alone for higher education dropped an average of 7.6 percent last year.) At the same time, there is growing competition from higher education institutions abroad for the best international students and for faculty, resources, and reputation.

To address these challenges, the council suggests a set of policies be enacted to support research universities so they produce the greatest return to the country. The action recommended revolves around three goals:

1. Revitalizing partnerships among universities, federal and state governments, philanthropy, and the business community to revitalize research and speed up its translation into products and services.

2. Strengthening institutions by improving the productivity of research operations within universities.

3. Building the pipeline of future talent in science, engineering, and other research areas and attracting the best scholars from around the world.

The report says strengthening partnerships and enhancing investment in research universities can "encourage the ideas and innovations that will lead to more high-end jobs, increased incomes, and the national security, health, and prosperity we expect."

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