A report from the National Research Council on the importance research universities play in protecting the nation’s prosperity and security reinforces and supports the direction West Virginia University is headed, its leaders say, as well as underscores concerns the University has been voicing.

The Council, an arm of the National Academies, issued Research Universities and the Future of America on Thursday (June 14), warning that federal and state government as well as private industry must take action to support and strengthen U.S. research institutions or face further deterioration in the nation’s standard of living and safety.

“America’s research universities play a major part in our country’s continued prosperity and security,” President Jim Clements said. “The National Research Council’s report provides a roadmap for academe, business and government at the state and federal levels to follow in order to keep our research universities, and our country, competitive.

“As West Virginia’s land-grant, flagship, research university, WVU welcomes this call to action and we look forward to working with business and government leaders to implement the report’s recommendations.”

Congress had requested the report, which was written by a group that included industry executives, university presidents, a former U.S. senator and a Nobel laureate.

The 10 actions it recommends be taken during the next five to 10 years to maintain top-quality U.S. research institutions are:

  • The federal government “should adopt stable and effective policies, practices and funding for university-performed R&D and graduate education so that the nation will have a stream of new knowledge and educated people to power our future, helping us meet national goals and ensure prosperity and security.”
  • States should “provide greater autonomy for public research universities so that these institutions may leverage local and regional strengths to compete strategically and respond with agility to new opportunities. At the same time, restore state appropriations for higher education, including graduate education and research, to levels that allow public research universi�ties to operate at world-class levels.”
  • “Strengthen the business role in the research partnership, facilitating the transfer of knowledge, ideas, and technology to society and accelerate ‘time to innovation’ in order to achieve our national goals.”
  • “Increase university cost-effectiveness and productivity in order to provide a greater return on investment for taxpayers, philanthropists, corporations, foundations, and other research sponsors.”
  • “Create a ‘Strategic Investment Program’ that funds initiatives at research universities critical to advancing education and research in areas of key national priority.”
  • “The federal government and other research sponsors should strive to cover the full costs of research projects and other activities they procure from research universities in a consistent and transparent manner.”
  • “Reduce or eliminate regulations that increase administrative costs, impede research productivity, and deflect creative energy without sub�stantially improving the research environment.”
  • “Improve the capacity of graduate programs to attract talented stu�dents by addressing issues such as attrition rates, time to degree, funding, and alignment with both student career opportunities and national interests.”
  • “Secure for the United States the full benefits of education for all Americans, including women and underrepresented minorities, in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology.”
  • “Ensure that the United States will continue to benefit strongly from the participation of international students and scholars in our research enterprise.”

“It seems as though WVU has 20/20 vision because of the congruence between the recommended Ten Breakthrough Actions and our recent strategic planning exercises,” said Provost Michele Wheatly, who attended the release of the report in Washington, D.C. along with Chief of Staff Jay Cole and Interim Vice President for Research Fred King. Also attending were Nigel Clark, WVU associate vice president for academic strategic planning, and Mary Bowman, WVU’s director of federal research relations.

“Two of the 10 recommended actions resonate with ongoing initiatives in Academic Affairs, specifically reforming graduate education and improving access and capacity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics pathway,” she said.

“Through identifying institutional mountains of research excellence, our faculty will be well positioned to take advantage of strategic investment funds in areas of national priority. Through increasing emphasis on globalization, WVU will be a destination for international students and scholars. Taken together the 10 breakthrough actions confirm that WVU is on the right path to becoming a better ranked research university.”

The report is a “call for the renewal of the partnerships that helped our nation successfully face the challenges of the 20th century,” said King, who leads WVU’s research enterprise. “It acknowledges that academia, industry and government all have important roles to play in ensuring the nation can successfully face the challenges of this new century.”

King noted that the report doesn’t shy away from requiring that the universities themselves have significant responsibilities.

“I am confident that WVU will rise up to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities presented,” he said. “Through our strategic planning process, we have identified specific areas for research that directly address some of the key challenges and opportunities of the century to come.

“We are focusing on the innovative utilization of the shale gas resource to address global energy needs; we are focusing on research to secure one of our most precious natural resources – freshwater; we are focusing on developing the best approaches to educate future generations of scientists and engineers and increasing the scientific literacy of the general public; and we are focusing on the science and engineering advances that will enable radio astronomy to increase our understanding of the universe in which we live,” King said.

Cole said he anticipated that WVU would help the Council roll out its message as well as gather information for a follow-up report and recommendation a year from now.



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