‘Close the Innovation Deficit’: Leading research universities renew call to increase U.S. federal funding

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Closing the “innovation gap” was targeted a year ago as a high national priority by a group of prominent universities, including Texas A&M University, along with several scientific and business organizations, but concern by top representatives of those entities is being expressed on the first anniversary of the initiative that the White House and Congress need to be more supportive and assertive.

Commemorating the first anniversary of the initiative — formally known as “Close the Innovation Deficit”–the supporting organizations renewed their call for increased federal investments in research to build a strong long-term economy, improve medical treatments, and strengthen national security.  As Congress prepares to break for its August recess, leaving key FY15 funding decisions to be addressed in September, leaders from those organizations today conducted a coordinated nationwide effort to communicate the need to close the innovation deficit.

The innovation deficit is the widening gap between actual and needed federal investments in research and higher education at a time when other nations such as China, India and Singapore are dramatically boosting research funding to develop the next great technological and medical breakthroughs to power their economies forward.

The effort to enhance the nation’s innovation initiative is being led by, among others, the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and The Science Coalition, with Texas A&M holding membership in all of them and having pledged support for it at the presidential level.

“Speaking on behalf of Texas A&M and its associated research and service agencies, we are totally committed to helping the nation significantly step up its efforts to be more innovative and research oriented on all fronts—technologically, agriculturally, medically and in defense-related measures, among others,” emphasized Texas A&M Interim President Mark Hussey.

He pointed out that Texas A&M, aided by its associated agencies, is a national leader in research, with many such endeavors having significant potential for development of new technologies and procedures with practical applications that can have marketplace impacts in the near future.

Texas A&M’s annual investment in research stands at a record $820 million, with hundreds of different fields represented.

In providing focus for a large portion of Texas A&M research going forward, the institution’s leaders formulated a “Grand Challenges” initiative that identifies six key areas in which the university has broad-based expertise and for which significant potential exists for positively impact areas related to innovation.  They are Enhancing Human, Animal and Plant Health, Educating 21th Century Leaders, Strengthening Democracy, Providing Sustainable and Efficient Energy, Designing and Protecting the Environment and Improving Economic Development.

The national closing- the- innovation- gap campaign began one year ago today with an open letter to the President and Congress signed by more than 200 university presidents and chancellors, that described the innovation deficit and called on leaders to close it with investments in research and higher education.

Organizations leading the “Close the Innovation Deficit” effort said their members would be speaking to members of Congress in their districts and on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks.  They will urge lawmakers to place a high priority on investments in research in the FY15 appropriations process and, over the longer term, eliminate sequestration and deal with entitlements and tax reform to make possible the increased investments needed to close the innovation deficit.

Earlier this month, Texas A&M’s vice president for research, Dr. Glen Laine, spoke at a roundtable discussion at the National Press Club sponsored by AAU and The Science Coalition, regarding the ongoing effort to close the innovation gap.

He said that although nations such as China may threaten to surpass the United States’ annual investment in research and development, they are unlikely to surpass America’s return on that investment.

Joined by representatives from several other top research institutions in the media briefing titled “All Things Research 2014,” Laine had the opportunity to interact with key writers and their radio and television counterparts and spotlight some of the innovative and cutting-edge research being conducted at the top universities around the nation.

Nations such as China tend to manage their scientific research from the top down, Laine said, with government hierarchy attempting to select research programs and to match them with selected scientists.

“Certainly here, if you take a faculty member and try to apply a top-down approach to research, it’s been historically unsuccessful,” Laine noted. “So even though they are investing the money, our system has a greater return on investment than they will have.”

Laine agreed with several fellow panelists who pointed out that federal investment in basic research is crucial to sustaining innovation and economic development. “Basic research provides the building blocks for all innovation,” Laine added. “If we fail to adequately fund basic research, we are closing the door that leads to the scientific, medical and technological advancements that power our economy.”

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