Deeply concerned about major federal budget cuts to research and higher education at a time when other nations are steadily increasing investments in those areas, University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart today joined 165 other university presidents and chancellors in calling on leaders in Washington to close what they call the "innovation deficit."
In an open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress, published as an advertisement today in the influential Washington, D.C., publication, Politico, Hart and her fellow university leaders wrote that closing the innovation deficit – the widening gap between needed and actual investments in research and education – must be a national imperative. The higher education leaders noted that investments in those areas lead to the types of innovation and new technologies that power the nation's economy, create jobs and reduce the budget deficit while ensuring the United States maintains its role as global leader.
"Throughout our history, this nation has kept the promise of a better tomorrow to each generation," Hart and her colleagues wrote. "This has been possible because of our economic prosperity based in large part on America's role as global innovation leader. Failing to deal with the innovation deficit will pass to future generations the burdens of lost leadership in innovation, economic decline and limited job opportunities. We call upon you to reject unsound budget cuts and recommit to strong and sustained investments in research and education. Only then can we ensure that our nation's promise of a better tomorrow endures."
Economists agree that more than half of U.S. economic growth since World War II is a consequence of technological innovation, much of which results from federally funded scientific research conducted at U.S. universities. Such groundbreaking research, the university leaders noted, has led to life-saving vaccines, lasers, MRI, touchscreens, GPS, the Internet and many other advances that have improved lives and generated entire new sectors of our economy.
As our state's premier research university, the UA has played an important role in improving lives and positively impacting the economy. Ranked among the top 20 public research universities, and with more than $625 million in research expenditures, the UA is internationally noted in such areas as optics, space sciences, the environment, biosciences and Southwest border issues. The UA has served as an incubator for several successful spin-off companies, including Ventana Medical Systems, Inc., a member of the Roche Group and a world leader in tissue-based diagnostic equipment. Together, the UA, the UA Tech Park and The University of Arizona Health Network provide an $8.3 billion statewide economic impact.
In the letter, the university leaders pointed out that over the past two decades, China, Singapore and South Korea dramatically have increased their investments in research and higher education, having seen the enormous benefits such investments have had for the U.S. economy. The rate of growth of U.S. research and development investments has been outstripped by those of China, Singapore and South Korea by two to four times during that period.
The university leaders' initiative comes as Congress faces critical budget decisions in the coming months. Annual funding bills, the debt limit and measures to eliminate or modify the deep across-the-board spending cuts forced by sequestration could all be taken up this fall. While the legislative path for those measures remains unclear, the presidents and chancellors noted that targeted investments in research and higher education can and should be made – regardless of overall funding levels – because they would be key sources of long-term economic growth and fiscal stability.
"Because the innovation deficit undermines economic growth it harms our nation’s overall fiscal health, worsening long-term budget deficits and debt," Hart and her colleagues wrote. "Investments in research and education are not inconsistent with long-term deficit reduction; they are vital to it."
The universities represented in the letter are all members of the Association of American Universities and/or the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The UA is a member of both.
The open letter, including a list of all of its signers, can be seen at http://www.innovationdeficit.org.