Research Universities: an Investment in the Future of Texas
I recently attended the June 4th Research Universities Conference held at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and organized by the UT System. The speakers and panelists addressed recommended actions from a new report from the National Academy of Sciences for ensuring research universities—such as our Tier One research institutions UT Austin, Texas A&M University, and Rice University—remain sustainable and productive.
I found the conference to be thought-provoking, particularly in relation to the ongoing controversy over the value of our research institutions. I have always been struck by the irony that the value of research universities is under scrutiny by some, while the state supports advanced university research through the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (TETF) and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Both of these taxpayer-funded organizations are making it possible to recruit top talent to our universities, fund centers of excellence, and support consortia benefitting multiple industry sectors. There are vast levels of follow-on funding flowing into our state to develop products from start-ups with technologies created in university labs or collaborations between companies and universities such as ExxonMobil’s energy development programs. This funding is clear evidence that our research universities are the engines of economic growth and significantly improve the quality of life for our citizens.
It also seems that the ongoing support of HB 51, which recognizes the importance of the advancement of emerging research universities in Texas to Tier One status, sends a strong message that national research universities are recognized as the key to attracting top faculty and students to produce scientific innovation and economic benefit. Tier One universities benefit business in the state by providing a highly-trained workforce, generating more research discoveries and expanding partnerships that contribute to the expertise needed to address community challenges.
Of course it is good business practice to constantly look for ways to improve productivity at our universities, and long-term sustainable strategies can be developed without losing sight of the mission of the research university. My favorite quote of the day was from Laurie Rich, Special Advisor on Higher Education, Texas Emerging Technology Fund, who said “sometimes we forget that it takes little money to catalyze transformational forward movement.” As the debate on the value of research universities continues, we need to remember that our research universities play a critical role in catalyzing transformational forward movement, and the long-term benefits to the Texas economy are well worth the investment.
TAMEST Executive Director