Academic journal article Journal of the Society of Research Administrators

State of the National Research System: Issues for the New Administration

Academic journal article Journal of the Society of Research Administrators

State of the National Research System: Issues for the New Administration

Article excerpt

STATE OF THE NATIONAL RESEARCH SYSTEM: ISSUES FOR THE NEW ADMINISTRATION These are challenging times for our country. Because meeting most of those challenges involves the wise use of science and technology, they offer a particular challenge for those of us who currently have stewardship for the national research system. For example:

* All of us were encouraged by the successful conclusion of the treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union to remove intermediate-range ballistic missiles from Europe and hope that agreement for a substantial reduction in strategic nuclear weapons can be reached within the next year or two. Yet these trends raise important questions about the future directions of U.S. defense strategy, particularly its technological base.

* A few years ago, most of us were convinced that this country's scientific, technological, and economic preeminence in the world was unchallengeable. Yet despite our superlative scientific capabilities, we face increasingly serious competition not only from Japan and Western Europe, but also from several newly industrialized countries.

President Bush will have to call on this country's scientific resources to help define and resolve these and other significant national problems--in the fields of agriculture, health, the environment, and space--to give only the most obvious examples. The effectiveness with which science can be used as a public policy tool clearly depends on the strength of the country's scientific resources, and therefore on the continued vitality of the university-based national research system. For that reason, the state of that system, including its human resource base, comprises an important set of issues for the new administration. In what follows, I will list and describe briefly what I regard as the most troubling of those issues, then comment on the capacity of the White House, as presently organized, to deal effectively with them. Frankly, I think that capacity has been inadequate. So I'll conclude by suggesting some options to enable government--and science--to improve the situation.

There is little doubt that U.S. science today is as vigorous and productive as it has ever been, perhaps even more so. Yet resource constraints are limiting the productivity of our national research system and raising doubts about whether its productivity can be sustained. For example:

* Despite the fact that several studies conducted during the past eight years attest to the erosion of university research facilities, no solution to that problem is on the horizon. In fact, estimates of the amount required to restore or replace inadequate facilities range from $2 to $4 billion.

* Individual, disciplinary research is severely underfunded. In 1986, the National Science Foundation was able to support only about 75 percent of those proposals that were in the top-rated categories, as judged by peer review panels. Even successful proposals were funded, on the average, at only 65 percent of their budget requests. The NSF estimated that an additional $800 million, or almost a 50 percent increase in its current budget, would be required simply to support all top rated individual investigator-initiated proposals at adequate levels. An even more substantial increase would be required to provide reasonable support to substantial numbers of new projects, particularly proposed by young faculty.

* It is not surprising, that in view of the difficulty in obtaining research support, that decreasing numbers of talented young Americans are pursuing graduate study in science and engineering. Well over half of all graduate students in engineering are foreign born, and the figures for physics, chemistry, and mathematics are comparable. University faculties have become heavily dependent on foreign-born Ph.D.s to maintain their instructional and research programs. With 40 percent of tenured faculty in U. …

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