University leaders urge reduction of innovation gap

The erosion of federal funding for college student aid and research is a serious problem that has implications for the future of the nation, according to a letter sent to President Barack Obama and members of the 113th Congress. The letter, sponsored by the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), and signed by Penn State President Rodney Erickson and 164 other U.S. university presidents and chancellors representing all 50 states, urges government leaders to "reject unsound budget cuts and recommit to strong and sustained investments in research and education."

The letter cites the increasing innovation gap, caused by the combination of reduced federal investments in research and higher education, additional cuts due to sequestration, and the enormous resources other nations are pouring into these areas, as a risk to U.S. economic and national security that includes consequences of "a less prepared, less highly-skilled U.S. workforce, fewer U.S.-based scientific and technological breakthroughs, fewer U.S.-based patents, and fewer U.S. start-ups, products and jobs."

The ramifications of this innovation gap touch multiple areas of American life. "Investing in higher education and research is key to the future success of our nation," Erickson said. "This growing gap between needed and actual federal investments in research and higher education undermines the U.S. economy because innovation is the key ingredient to economic growth and job creation.

"Without federally funded research, we would not have so many of the things we take for granted today, including life-saving vaccines, lasers, MRI, touchscreens, GPS, even the Internet. The groundbreaking research we do that is supported by federal funding has improved and even saved lives. It has generated entire new sectors of the economy, and it has supported American jobs. Investments in research and education are not inconsistent with long-term deficit reduction; rather, they are vital to it," Erickson said. 

The letter points out that countries such as China, Singapore and South Korea are investing heavily in research and development, at a rate of two to four times higher than that of the United States. At the same time, the U. S. has fallen to 12th among developed countries in the share of young adults who hold college degrees.

Federally supported research in all fields and by many agencies also has contributed directly to the ideas, technologies and other discoveries that have helped the effectiveness of the U.S. military. "In addition, our national security depends on a supply of trained scientists and engineers from U.S. universities to work on technologies vital to our national and homeland security initiatives," Erickson said.

"The path for resolving appropriations, the debt limit and a potential long-term budget agreement this fall is unclear," the letter reads. "What should be clear is that the answer to our nation's fiscal woes must include sustained strategic federal investments in research and student financial aid to close the innovation deficit and bolster our nation's economic and national security for decades to come."

Contacts: 
Last Updated July 31, 2014