How to Hone U.S. Grad Schools

Staff Writer

Policy-makers, business leaders, and educators in the U.S. spend a lot of time these days talking about what the country needs to do in order to be more competitive in the global economy. Today, a new report from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) joined the chorus, calling for the revitalization of graduate education and better links between universities and industry.

The 36-page document, written by a committee of academics, policy experts, and industry representatives and released today at a meeting held at the U.S. Library of Congress, is intended to remind lawmakers of the role of graduate education in innovation at a time when Congressional efforts are focused on improving K-12 science and math education in the country. "America's huge economic success comes from innovation, which is fuelled by its research enterprise," says CGS President Debra Stewart. "And that in turn is driven by graduate education."

Although the U.S. still has the world's strongest graduate education system and attracts talented students from around the globe, the report warns of increasing competition from other nations that are boosting their investments in universities. "We need to do more to expand and replenish the academic pipeline, both by developing our domestic talent pool and by making it easier for the world's best and brightest to pursue their graduate education at American universities," Stewart says.

The report lobbies for a 10% increase in federal funding for graduate education programs, more scholarships for underrepresented minorities, and a more streamlined visa system. Furthermore, the report says, universities must overhaul their graduate programs by making them more interdisciplinary, for example, blending engineering with the health sciences. And businesses should increase their research collaborations with graduate schools.

"The business community needs to make sure that universities know the kind of skills that companies are looking for," says Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice president of technical strategy and innovation at IBM and one of the report's authors. "Today's economy needs people who are good at applying technical skills to services--like designing a supply-chain system or a hospital management system," he says. "That requires more interdisciplinary training than before."

The report's recommendations are a roadmap that would help boost not just the nation's economic health but also its security, says chemist George Atkinson, who until two weeks ago served as the U.S. State Department's science and technology adviser.

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