Academics and researchers never tire of telling governments how to boost scientific and technological competitiveness. Now comes a more self-reflective proposal from the Association of American Universities (AAU) that also tells universities what they must do to strengthen the U.S. economy and protect the nation.
The National Defense Education and Innovation Initiative, proposed today by the 62-university consortium, comes one day after the latest legislative proposal aimed at increasing the nation's innovative capacity (ScienceNOW , 25 January). There is considerable overlap between AAU's recommendations for the government and measures proposed by the three bills, including a call for increased federal investment in basic research and more graduate scholarships in science and engineering. But the AAU initiative also calls on universities and colleges to offer undergraduate students more opportunities to do research, shorten the time it takes for students to earn Ph.D.s, reduce attrition rates, and train better K-12 science and math teachers.
"Until now, the discussion on how to maintain the country's leadership in science and technology has focused on what the government can do," says AAU's Toby Smith. "We wanted to point out the many things that universities must do as well."
Other academic organizations have welcomed the initiative. "It allocates clear goals and responsibilities to both universities and the government, something that previous reports haven't done," says David Ward, president of the American Council on Education. "And it's very timely, even though it says many things that have been said before. Policy change doesn't take place without a lot of redundant and repetitive activity."
Universities are already working on some of the recommendations, such as shortening the average time to a doctoral degree. "Keeping the average length of graduate training to under 6 years is really key," says Robert Thach, a dean at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. "Otherwise, students get disenchanted."
- NDEII report