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Report: Research Universities Critical in Maintaining America's Competitive Edge

A National Research Council report recently examined the health and competitiveness of research universities and their partnership with government and industry.

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June 14, 2012-Houston- University of Houston superconductivity pioneer Paul Chu served on a National Research Council blue-ribbon committee that released a report Thursday regarding the critical role research universities play in maintaining the nation’s competitive edge globally.

The report, “Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation's Prosperity and Security,” examined the health and competitiveness of research universities and their partnership with government and industry.

It was prepared in response to a request from Congress that asked the National Research Council to make recommendations as to how research universities can “maintain the excellence in research and doctoral education needed to help the United States compete, prosper and achieve national goals for health, energy, the environment and security in the global community of the 21st century.”

The report, among other things, recommends that research universities, government and industry work more closely together to create economic opportunities. It also said research universities need to provide more support to graduate students and improve their efficiency and effectiveness.

Members noted that research universities across the nation are under financial stress, and they urged support for them, saying it was important to the nation’s economic future. The 22-member committee consisted of leaders from academia, government, industry and national laboratories.

University of Houston superconductivity pioneer Paul Chu. University of Houston

We believe that America’s research universities are, today, a key asset for our nation’s future. They are so because of the considered and deliberate decisions made in the past by policymakers, even in difficult times. Our future now depends on the willingness of our current policymakers to follow their example and make the decisions that will allow us to continue to compete, prosper and shape our destiny,” according to the report’s executive summary.

“It is essential that we as a nation reaffirm, revitalize and strengthen substantially the unique partnership that has long existed among the nation’s research universities, the federal government, the states and philanthropy by enhancing their roles and linkages and also providing incentives for stronger partnership with business and industry. In doing so, we will encourage the ideas and innovations that will lead to more high-end jobs, increasing middle-class incomes, and the security, health and prosperity we expect," according to the executive summary.

Chu, who was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday for the report’s official release, said universities provide researchers with “the opportunity to challenge the impossible.”

Chu gained global recognition when he and his colleagues ushered in a new era in materials science by discovering superconductivity at above 77 degrees Kelvin, the boiling point of liquid nitrogen. Superconducting materials are now being used to make devices for energy generation, transmission and storage, as well as for ultra-fast and ultra-sensitive signal detection and magnets for magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI.

Chu founded the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston (TcSUH) and now serves as its executive director, continuing his research into developing new materials and achieving superconductive properties at even higher temperatures.

The committee examined a number of areas, including research and doctoral programs at research universities and associated medical centers, basic and applied research at universities, and fields of study and research that are critical to helping the U.S. achieve its national goals.

The National Research Council is a member of the National Academies, a collection of private, nonprofit institutions that provide expert advice on some of the most pressing challenges facing the nation and the world.

The National Academies has produced groundbreaking reports that have helped shape policies, inform public opinion and advance the pursuit of science, engineering and medicine.