BOZEMAN – Deeply concerned about major federal budget cuts to research and higher education at a time when other nations are steadily increasing investments in those areas, 165 university presidents and chancellors, including Montana State University President Waded Cruzado, recently called on leaders in Washington to close what they call the “innovation deficit.” In an open letter to President Obama and Congress published as an advertisement in Politico, the university leaders wrote that closing the innovation deficit—the widening gap between needed and actual investments in research and education—must be a national imperative.
Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities (AAU), and Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), whose organizations coordinated the letter, joined the university presidents and chancellors in signing it. The higher education leaders, whose schools are members of AAU and APLU, noted that investments in those areas lead to the types of innovation and new technologies that power the nation’s economy, create jobs, improve health, and strengthen national security, ensuring that the U.S. maintains its role as global leader.
“Throughout our history, this nation has kept the promise of a better tomorrow to each generation,” the presidents and chancellors wrote. “This has been possible because of our economic prosperity based in large part on America’s role as global innovation leader. Failing to deal with the innovation deficit will pass to future generations the burdens of lost leadership in innovation, economic decline, and limited job opportunities. We call upon you to reject unsound budget cuts and recommit to strong and sustained investments in research and education. Only then can we ensure that our nation’s promise of a better tomorrow endures.”
MSU is an example of the important research that is generated at universities across the nation, as well as how those discoveries serve as important economic drivers, Cruzado said.
Montana State is one of 108 colleges and universities in the nation – out of more than 4,600 – that maintain "very high research activity." Of those 108, only 51 are also classified by Carnegie as having significant commitment to community engagement. And of those, MSU is the only institution whose Carnegie enrollment profile is "very high undergraduate."
In addition, MSU’s Technology Transfer Office works to establish collaborations and working relationships between industry and each of the research and creative areas of MSU. The office helps license the inventions of MSU faculty and researchers to industry and manages the relationship between the university and its licensee partners.
MSU currently holds 208 active technology licenses. MSU also has 88 patents issued for discoveries, with 38 patents pending. More than 50 companies started in the last 10 years based on MSU technologies.
The healthy optics industry in Gallatin County is one example of how research generated at the university helps drive the local economy. Nearly 20 years ago, university leaders saw opportunities in lasers and optics, so they designed a program to strengthen MSU's offerings in the area. Since then, faculty members, students and alumni from several MSU departments have contributed important research and technologies to the growing field. Since the first optics company came to Bozeman in 1980, 32 optics-related companies have formed in the area, with the vast majority still operating in the Gallatin Valley. The numbers give Bozeman the distinction of being home to twice the number of optics companies per capita as Tucson, Ariz., which is widely regarded as a major center of the optical industry, said Joe Shaw, an electrical and computer engineering professor at MSU.
And, just last month, nearly a dozen commercial and industrial scientists – some representing Fortune 500 companies -- converged on MSU’s Center for Biofilm Engineering to learn about the possibilities that come with advanced microscope imaging.
Economists agree that more than half of U.S. economic growth since World War II is a consequence of technological innovation, much of which comes from federally funded scientific research conducted at U.S. universities. Such groundbreaking research, the university leaders noted, has led to life-saving vaccines, lasers, MRI, touchscreens, GPS, the Internet, and many other advances that have improved lives and generated entire new sectors of our economy.
The university leaders pointed out that over the past two decades, China, Singapore and South Korea have dramatically increased their investments in research and higher education, having seen the enormous benefits such investments have had for the U.S. economy. The rate of growth of U.S. research and development investments has been outstripped by those of China, Singapore and South Korea by two to four times during that period.
The university leaders’ initiative comes as Congress faces critical budget decisions in the coming months. Annual funding bills, the debt limit, and measures to eliminate or modify the deep across-the-board spending cuts forced by sequestration could all be taken up this fall. While the legislative path for those measures remains unclear, the presidents and chancellors noted that investments in research and higher education can and should be sustained regardless of overall funding levels because they would be key sources of long-term economic growth and fiscal stability.
“Because the innovation deficit undermines economic growth it harms our nation’s overall fiscal health, worsening long-term budget deficits and debt,” the university leaders wrote. “Investments in research and education are not inconsistent with long-term deficit reduction; they are vital to it.”
The open letter, including a list of all of its signers, as well as additional information can be found on www.innovationdeficit.org.
Anne Cantrell at (406) 994-4902 or email@example.com