Utah State University chief joins other universities in call to close 'innovation deficit'

Published: Wednesday, July 31 2013 4:54 p.m. MDT

Utah State University President Stan Albrecht during a news conference in Logan, Utah., Friday, May 4, 2012. Utah State University President Stan Albrecht joined more than 160 of the nation's university presidents in calling on Congress and President Barack Obama to close what they call the "innovation deficit."

ELI LUCERO, AP

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LOGAN — Utah State University President Stan Albrecht joined more than 160 of the nation's university presidents in calling on Congress and President Barack Obama to close what they call the "innovation deficit."

In an open letter, published Wednesday as an advertisement in Politico, the university presidents wrote that closing the gap between what investments are made for research and education and what is needed by universities must be a national imperative.

"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," the letter states. "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."

The letter was drafted by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, of which USU is affiliated. Utah State was the only Utah public university represented in the letter.

"It’s to draw their attention to the role that research universities played historically and the role they need to continue playing as we deal with a global economy and the challenges of a global economy," Albrecht said.

Albrecht said that grants and funding for research come from a number of sources and in almost all cases there have been reductions or the anticipation of reductions. He said divestment in research means a number of innovative ideas do not receive the support they require to be developed, which has implications for everything from the nation's economy to defense.

"I signed it because I believe very strongly in the message being sent here," he said of the letter, adding that he has long been involved with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, including holding positions of leadership in the association.

Jeff Lieberson, vice president of public affairs for the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, said the letter is a continuation of an effort to address the needs of U.S. schools as lawmakers head into their August recess.

He said educators are concerned about the U.S. losing its standing as a global leader of innovation as funding continues to decline while other countries continue to emphasize research and development.

"Federal budget cuts to research and higher education have been going on now for years and have been exacerbated by sequestration that kicked in," he said. "What’s really happening here is a one-two punch in that the U.S. is reducing investments in higher education, which is really bad, but that’s also happening at the same time other countries like China and Korea are increasing theirs."

He also said a component of closing the innovation gap involves providing responsible financial aid to students. Interest rates for federally subsidized student loans doubled in July and lawmakers continue to debate a number of plans to secure lower borrowing rates for students.

"Research that goes on in our campuses can only go on if students are filling those labs and classrooms," Lieberson said. "It’s critical that aid is in place to enable a student to attend college and go on to work in these labs and develop these new breakthroughs."

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