The role, well-being, and consequently the future, of the American research university is in a more precarious state that it has been in more than half a century according to the latest report published by The Research Universities Futures Consortium.
The causes for uncertainty are varied: reduced federal and state funding, eroding endowments, global competition, and increasingly complex compliance and reporting requirements. These factors have combined to create a perfect storm that has battered public and political confidence and devalued the perceived importance of university-based research. However, this doubt is juxtaposed by an equal expectation for universities to produce research products that address “a growing list of complex problems,” according to the Consortium.
In response, the Consortium embarked on this study to examine from the “bottom up” the current health of the American research university and identify the specific hurdles that should be addressed. Information for this study came from a combination of both public and private universities. The findings emphasized six core areas:
- Scarcity of resources.
- Increasing government regulation refocusing efforts on compliance rather than research activities.
- Ongoing collaboration between the academic research community and key stakeholders to react to societal expectations and develop the performance standards that help determine what is innovative and what is not.
- Working within resource constraints that can limit access to vital current and predictive data required for analysis, evaluation and recommendations.
- Effectively communicating the positive contribution and impact of university-based research for public good.
- Preserving the integrity of skilled administrators to steward research programs.
With these areas defined, the Consortium is looking to move the study to the next phase of developing a national strategy that will address the identified concerns and, ultimately, “sustain and enhance the ability of the nation’s research universities to fulfill their mission of creating new knowledge and applying it innovatively to address current and future needs and challenges.”