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Lessons for U.S. but also for Canada in report on U.S. universities

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Published: 14 Jun 2012

Report by blue-ribbon panel, including McGill Principal Munroe-Blum, highlights links between world-class research universities and future prosperity

Report by blue-ribbon panel, including McGill Principal Munroe-Blum, highlights links between world-class research universities and future prosperity

A report issued today by the National Research Council (NRC), the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering, in Washington, provides valuable reference points for Canada, says McGill Principal and Vice-Chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum.

The report – requested by the U.S. Congress – concludes that American research universities are essential for U.S. prosperity and security, but the institutions are in danger of serious decline unless government and industry take action to ensure adequate, stable funding in the next decade. The report was written by a committee that includes industry CEOs, university presidents, a former U.S. senator, and a Nobel laureate. Prof. Munroe-Blum is the only non-U.S. member.

The committee recommends 10 strategic actions that the U.S. and U.S. partners should take in the next five to 10 years to maintain top-quality research institutions.

"The talent, innovative ideas, and new technologies produced by U.S. research universities have led to some of our finest national achievements, from the modern agricultural revolution to the accessibility of the World Wide Web," said Charles O. Holliday Jr., chair of the committee that wrote the report, chairman of the board of Bank of America, and former chair and CEO of DuPont.  "Especially in these tough economic times, the nation cannot afford to defer investment in our best asset for building prosperity and success in the future."

The report underscores growing challenges for the U.S. that Canada also faces from other countries that are stepping up investments in their research-intensive universities, says Prof. Munroe-Blum. “In light of the tremendous growth of research-intensive universities world-wide, and the high priority that other governments are giving to the development of top-flight research universities and graduate programs, the committee has produced a report that responds to the request of Congress. Current federal programs for research and innovation in Canada served as inspiration for some of the recommendations in this report, but others of the key recommendations are as relevant and critical for Canada’s success as well.”

Among these, the report urges strengthening the investment in basic research and graduate education; that state (provincial) governments provide greater autonomy for public research universities so that these universities may leverage strengths to compete strategically and respond with agility to new opportunities; that universities set bold goals to increase their productivity and cost-effectiveness; that governments reduce regulatory burdens; that the federal government and other research sponsors support the full costs of research, direct and indirect, so that it is no longer necessary for universities to cross-subsidize research from resources intended for other central elements of the university mission.

Another key area of recommendation involves reforming graduate education to better serve students and society; that doctoral programs be restructured to make them more effective by enhancing pathways for talented undergraduates, improving completion rates, shortening time-to-degree and improving the preparation of graduates for careers beyond the academy. The U.S. government is encouraged to significantly increase its support for graduate education through balanced programs of fellowships, traineeships, and research assistantships.

“Notwithstanding great progress, Canada would do well to act on key lessons from the report – notably with respect to enhanced support for graduate education, international students, the full funding of research costs and the investment in basic research, and, universities also must do their part,” Prof. Munroe-Blum added. “As research universities outside of North America aggressively move into the top global ranks of higher education, Canada must also position itself to be as ambitious as the U.S.  Canada (and its provinces) will only succeed by benchmarking our government policies that support our research universities and innovation against the government policies of countries that consistently foster the success of their top institutions.”

The study was sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, National Science Foundation, and U.S. Department of Energy. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org.

Copies of Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation's Prosperity and Security are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13396&page=1

Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bcrIQ1G5-M&feature=youtu.be

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