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NRC Issues Report on Research Universities and the Future of America

June 15, 2012—The National Research Council issued a June 14 report titled Research Universities and the Future of America.  The report details “[t]en breakthrough actions vital to our Nation’s prosperity and security.”  The NRC panel was chaired by Charles O. Holliday, Jr., chair of the board of Bank of America, and former chair and CEO of DuPont.  The report builds upon Rising Above the Gathering Storm, an earlier Academies' study on U.S. competitiveness.

The NRC panel reported, “American research universities are essential for U.S. prosperity and security, but the institutions are in danger of serious decline unless the federal government, states, and industry take action to ensure adequate, stable funding in the next decade.”  The panel further reported that, “As trusted stewards of public funds, universities must also meet ‘bold goals’ to contain costs, enhance productivity, and improve educational pathways to careers both within and beyond academia.”

The ten actions detailed in the report focus on:

  • Revitalizing the partnership: actions that will strengthen the partnership among universities, federal and state governments, philanthropy, and the business community in order to revitalize university research and speed its translation into innovative products and services;
  • Strengthening institutions: actions that will streamline and improve the productivity of research operations within universities; and
  • Building talent: actions that will ensure that America’s pipeline of future talent in science, engineering, and other research areas remains creative and vital, leveraging the abilities of all of its citizens and attracting the best students and scholars from around the world.

Among the numerous specific recommendations, the panel suggested:

  • There should be a national plan to raise total national research and development funded by all sources—government, industry, and philanthropy—to 3 percent of gross domestic product;

  • State governments should move rapidly to provide their public research universities with sufficient autonomy and agility to navigate an extended period with limited state support;

  • The relationship between business and higher education should become more peer-to-peer in nature, stressing collaboration in areas of joint interest rather than remaining in a traditional customer-supplier relationship, in which business procures graduates and intellectual property from universities.  Businesses and universities should work closely together to develop new graduate degree programs that address strategic workforce gaps for science-based employers;

  • The nation’s research universities should set and achieve bold goals in cost containment, efficiency, and productivity in business operations and academic programs. Universities should strive to limit the cost escalation of all ongoing activities—academic and auxiliary—to the inflation rate or less through improved efficiency and productivity; and

  • The federal government and other research sponsors should strive to support the full cost, direct and indirect, of research and other activities they procure from universities so that it is no longer necessary to subsidize these sponsored grants by drawing on resources intended to support other important university missions such as undergraduate education and clinical care.


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Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806