Friday, 28 February 2014

Reduced Federal Funding and the Decline of University Research in the US

I previously wrote about the so-called innovation deficit in the United States, here.  The innovation deficit is defined as, "The widening gap between the actual level of federal government funding for research and higher education and what the investment needs to be if the United States is to remain the world's innovation leader."  The Chronicle of Higher Education has released the results of a study of over 11,000 "researchers holding current grants from the NIH [National Institutes of Health] or NSF [National Science Foundation]" in a recent article by Paul Basken and Paul Voosen titled, "Strapped: University Scientists abandon studies and students as funds dry up."  Some of the most disturbing results of the study include: 

Nearly half [of the responding researchers] have already abandoned an area of investigation they considered central to their lab's mission.  And more than three-quarters [of the responding researchers] have reduced their recruitment of graduate students and research fellows because of economic pressure.

The article also notes that:

36 percent [of the researchers who responded] said they expected more student[ researchers] to seek jobs [outside the United States], and 21 percent have advised them to do so.  Close to half, 42 percent, have advised student[ researchers] to seek careers outside academe.  Several researchers described intentionally seeking foreign partners for their work to help prepare for an eventual move overseas. 

One question in the survey was "In response to financial pressures, have you done any of the following?"  In response to that question, 62% noted they "[r]educed lab staff," 78% noted they "[r]educed the number of graduate students and fellows," 67% noted they "[r]educed travel," and 47% "[a]bandoned an area of planned investigation that you considered central to their lab's mission."  The article does note there could be a bias because of "a selective response from aggrieved researchers" and "questions skewed toward problems, not benefits. . .."

The future is not looking bright for university research, particularly research concerning basic science, in the United States.  And, this could be damaging to the U.S. economic recovery.  What do you think?

1 comment:

Suleman Ali said...

Whilst clearly this is an undesirable situation, perhaps it opens up the opportunity for asking what sort of research the US wants to spend its money on, and to what extent recipients of federal money can find other means of funding. Perhaps there is an optimal balance between commercialisable and non-commercialisable research that needs to be found. In which ever way US research institutions decide to respond I'm sure valuable lessons will be learned.