THE POWER OF RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES
Higher education is the incubator of innovation in the United States as university faculty and students, supported by public and private investment, pursue knowledge in order to advance our understanding, abilities, and growth. Innovation functions as an ecosystem, bringing together, in symbiotic relationships, different types of and approaches to research and an array of stakeholders, from researchers, to technology transfer professionals, to end users or licensers.
Higher education is typically where the basic knowledge underpinning innovation is discovered, and universities are increasingly involved in every stage of development. Beyond basic knowledge, postsecondary institutions partner with business and industry to facilitate the movement of innovation into society and the market.
The universities’ role in the innovation ecosystem is both broad and critically important. It must include all of the following components: basic research, applied research, and translation and commercialization. In addition, the research environment should embed training, providing opportunities for students at all levels to see, experience, and engage with the processes of knowledge discovery and understanding. These components are complementary and co- dependent, each needing the others to continue the cycle of invention.
In addition to the broad goals of building knowledge and understanding and contributing to the economy, research universities are essential contributors to the quality of life in the places in which they are located. Research universities practice “stewardship of place,” focusing efforts on resolving issues that affect their communities. In Louisiana, for example, significant statewide research partnerships investigate diseases that disproportionately affect our citizens – heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and infectious diseases – threats to our environment, uses of our natural resources, and new technologies that can serve as platforms for our growing economy. The purpose of university research is not to create knowledge for its own sake, but to serve its environment and transform lives through the knowledge and innovation it generates; campuses begin that work in their own communities. Our Talent Imperative requires that our institutions improve not only the education, but also the health, well-being, and social mobility of our citizens.
For more than 30 years the Board of Regents, through the BoR Support Fund (BoRSF) as well as statewide federal grants, has seeded these activities and made significant progress in growing both federal research funding and industry partnerships. During the years of BoR operation of BoRSF and federal programs, more than $255 million in state monies have been distributed to the campuses, leveraging more than $1 billion in federal and private monies.44 Much BoRSF investment, moreover, has been focused on projects directly studying and benefitting our region and the state.
Per National Science Foundation (NSF) data, annual higher education research expenditures in Louisiana from all sources have grown from $154 million in 2001 to more than $683 million in 2016, a more than fourfold increase.47 Essential to securing and continuing this trend is identifying ways to maintain and grow research infrastructure, ensuring that all participants – faculty, students, industry partners, and others – have access to cutting-edge tools and services necessary to a healthy and productive research environment. The tremendous assets in Louisiana – both a strong research infrastructure across numerous critical areas of study (advanced manufacturing, computer technology, cybersecurity, energy, and health sciences) and a set of research issues of critical regional importance – will be the launchpad for our next generation of research and technology development.