Last week, the National Academies released a report chartered by Congress — “Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security” — assessing the competitive position of the nation’s research universities, and responding to the following question:
What are the top 10 actions that Congress, the Federal government, state governments, research universities, and others can take to assure the ability of the American research university to maintain the excellence in research and doctoral education needed to help the United States compete, prosper, and achieve national goals for health, energy, the environment, and security in the global community of the 21st century?
The report — authored by a committee of leaders spanning academia, industry, government, and national laboratories — concluded broadly:
It is essential that we as a nation reaffirm, revitalize, and strengthen substantially the unique partnership that has long existed among the nation’s research universities, the federal government, the states, and philanthropy by enhancing their individual roles and the links among them and also by providing incentives for stronger partnership with business and industry. In doing so, we will encourage the ideas and innovations that will lead to more high-end jobs, increased incomes, and the national security, health, and prosperity we expect.
It went on to identify 10 actions designed to revitalize university research and speed its translation into innovative products and services, streamline and improve productivity of research operations within universities, and build a pipeline of future talent in science, engineering, and other research areas.
There’s one recommendation likely to be of particular interest to the computing community (following the link):
The fifth action recommended in the report — “create a Strategic Investment Program that funds initiatives of research universities critical to advancing education and research in areas of key national priority” — calls for a Federal program for campus research infrastructure requiring matching grants from state governments, the private sector, or institutional sources. Importantly, the report strongly recommends that the highest priority for these funds be given to cyberinfrastructure, to support research, education, collaboration, and productivity.
From the report summary:
The federal government should create a new Strategic Investment Program to support initiatives that advance education and research at the nation’s research universities. This should be designed as a “living” program that responds to changing needs and opportunities; as such, it will be composed of term-limited initiatives requiring matching grants in critical areas that will change over time.
We recommend that the program begin with two 10-year initiatives: an endowed faculty chairs program to facilitate the careers of young investigators and a research infrastructure program initially focused on advancing campus cyberinfrastructure, but perhaps evolving later to address emerging needs for physical research infrastructure. Federal investments in these initiatives would be intended for both public and private research universities, and they would require institutions to obtain matching funds from states, philanthropy, business, or other sources. We recommend that the federal government support these first two initiatives in the Strategic Investment Program at $7 billion per year over the next decade. These funds will leverage an additional $9 billion per year through matching grants from other partners.
Universities should compete for funding under these initiatives, bringing in partners — states, business, philanthropy, and others — that will support projects by providing required matching funds.
This program will develop and enhance the human, physical, and cyberinfrastructure necessary for cutting-edge research and advanced education. The investment in rapidly evolving cyberinfrastructure will increase productivity and collaboration in research and may also increase productivity in administration and education. Also of critical importance is the endowment of chairs, particularly for promising young faculty, during a time of serious financial stress and limited faculty retirements. This initiative will ensure that we are building our research faculty for the future, so that the nation can reap the rewards of their work over the long term.
Interestingly, the report also features as an example of “discovery and progress” enabled by our innovation ecosystem the Mosaic browser, enabled through the nation’s investment in Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD).
(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)