Colleges and universities are critical components of the U.S. innovation ecosystem. These institutions are called upon to play ever-evolving roles in building talent for a changing workforce; achieving scientific breakthroughs; creating new technologies, products, and companies; and contributing to local economic development. Yet, as the pace of change accelerates across our economy, federal and state budget constraints have made meeting these expectations increasingly challenging. The federal commitment to research and development stands at a multidecadal low as a percentage of GDP (1). Now, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted almost all aspects of higher education, including the ability to keep laboratories open, conduct research in a timely manner, collect and process data, and collaborate with colleagues and students.
As colleges and universities across the nation make difficult decisions to advance their vital missions this fall, the $55 billion in federal support for university-performed R&D (i.e., on-campus research) is at risk (2). Maintaining the strength of the U.S. research enterprise—the same research enterprise that has enabled the rapid sequencing of the COVID-19 genome and launched numerous treatment and vaccine studies—must be a national priority. Laboratories must remain open, and researchers must be allowed to continue data collection and analysis, with all the necessary health protocols in place.
We cannot afford to shut down critical projects with long-term national benefits or to postpone projects that provide the hands-on graduate and undergraduate student research experiences necessary to train the next generation of scientists and engineers. In these difficult times, we call upon the federal government to provide the leadership, critical funding, and programmatic flexibility necessary to enable the nation’s colleges and universities to continue the U.S. commitment to research, exploration, and new knowledge creation that will power our economy and provide opportunity for all.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank co-authored this piece with other university leaders. Click here to read the full article.