University leaders urge President Obama, Congress to restore research funding

President Barbara R. Snyder is one of more than 185 university leaders who signed an open letter urging President Barack Obama and Congress to restore funding for research and education.

The letter, which appeared last week in a print edition of the prominent Washington, D.C., newspaper Politico, discussed the “innovation deficit” created by federal funding cuts in research and higher education as a result of the sequester.

“University research drives economic progress in local communities and, ultimately, the nation as a whole,” President Snyder said. “Even more important, the discoveries that take place in our laboratories and in locations around the world change people’s lives.”

Leaders from the Association of American Universities (AAU), a group of leading research institutions, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), a research and advocacy organization, signed the letter. It can be read in full at

In it, they explained that closing the innovation deficit—the widening gap between needed and actual investments—must occur immediately to prevent serious consequences, including a less-prepared, less highly skilled U.S. workforce, fewer U.S.-based scientific and technological breakthroughs, fewer U.S.-based patents and fewer U.S. start-ups, products and jobs.

“These impacts may not be immediately obvious because the education and research that lead to advances do not happen overnight,” they wrote. “But the consequences are inevitable if we do not reverse course.”

The letter expressed concern over the future of U.S. progress and growth without continued investment from the federal government. They cited statistics regarding China, Singapore and South Korea’s investments in research and higher education—an investment growth rate they said is two to four times the rate of U.S. research and development growth. In addition, they noted the U.S. now ranks 12th among developed countries whose young adults hold college degrees, falling from first a generation ago.

“Our nation is rapidly losing ground,” the letter stated, “and further cuts including sequestration will only exacerbate the problem.”

Economists have said that more than half of U.S. economic growth since World War II is a result of technological innovation that often comes from federally funded scientific research. The research, according to the AAU/APLU letter, includes life-saving vaccines, lasers, MRI, touchscreens, GPS, the Internet and more.

In addition, the university leaders pointed out, the “innovation deficit” could have disastrous effects on national security, as research has contributed to the ideas and technologies that make the U.S. military effective and scientists from U.S. universities work on technologies vital to national and homeland security.

The AAU/APLU letter is the most recent protest against cuts to federal research funding. In April, more than 50 Nobel laureates penned an open letter from the American Federation of Scientists requesting science research not be affected by budget cuts.

The AAU is a nonprofit association of 62 leading public and private research universities in the United States and Canada focused on advancing the international standing of U.S. research universities. The APLU is the nation’s oldest higher education institution, comprising 218 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems and related organizations.