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Remarks: Stresses on Research and Education

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Remarks of
John H. Gibbons
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology

Stresses on Research and Education at
Colleges and Universities: Phase II

Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable
National Academy of Sciences
February 26, 1997

Thank you. I am pleased to be with you today and, first of all, to bring a message from the President of the United States.

Warm greetings to everyone gathered at the National Academy of Sciences to discuss an issue of utmost importance to the future of our nation: the continued vitality of America's research colleges and universities.

We live in a time of enormous possibility. We have an unprecedented opportunity to shape the Information Age, to lead the global economy, to develop new life-enhancing technology, and to create jobs for the work force of the next century. Our passion for learning and our sense of discovery have always driven this nation forward, and, if we are to make the most of this historic moment, we must renew our national commitment to education, to learning, and to research.

America's colleges and universities have, for decades, produced the world's finest engineers and scientists and have been a principal source of new knowledge and scientific discovery. Today, we still look to our academic institutions for help in addressing our nation's major challenges -- fighting disease, improving the environment, protecting our national security, and sustaining our economic growth. But, if we are to ensure the future vitality of these institutions, we must work together -- federal and state governments, the university community, and private industry -- to make the far-sighted investments in education and research that will enable us to master this moment of change and build a stronger America for the future.

I commend all of you for your dedication and leadership in this endeavor. By striving to revitalize the role of America's colleges and universities in scientific enterprise and to strengthen the foundations of support of this role, you are helping to create a brighter future for us all.

Best wishes for a productive meeting.

It is signed by President Bill Clinton.

One of the overarching themes of the Clinton Administration's support for science and technology is maintaining leadership across the frontiers of science. The Administration views S&T leadership as crucial to improving health care, agriculture, environmental management, national security, and economic prosperity. Key to maintaining this leadership is support for our nation's research colleges and universities. But they cannot do it alone. That is why the GUIR Roundtable was created to foster dialogue among partners, to share lessons learned, and to illuminate pathways to solutions either not seen or not yet taken.

While focusing on stresses on research and education, I would like to emphasize in my remarks the value of dialogue, learning across sectors, and the need to glimpse new solutions to the challenges that confront colleges and universities, and indeed the nation.

America's colleges and universities are unmatched in their capacity to provide advanced education in science and engineering and to enrich it through cutting edge research. The tight link between research and education has been fostered by the federal government for over half a century and supported through a robust bipartisan commitment. The results of this support have been absolutely remarkable. The expression of scientific research in technological innovation has accounted for a major part of our economic growth, has underpinned our national security, and has promoted our ability to understand, prevent and treat disease, and alleviate environmental problems.

The promise of science and technology is far from exhausted, but will be realized only through continued strengthening of our world-class scientific enterprise. The bedrock of that enterprise is our system of research colleges and universities. Therefore, it is important that the partnership that exists among our academic research institutions, the private sector, the federal and state governments be nurtured and periodically examined, especially at a time when stresses can inhibit bold thinking and limit our reach or effectiveness.

Of course, there is a corollary. The heightened importance in the public's mind of research and education, as keys to both national strength and individual well-being, brings with it heightened demand by the public and elected officials for measures of the health, the efficiency, and societal contributions of academe. Their opinions will be shaped by factors that extend well beyond research and education per se. But they are intimately tied to what colleges and universities are expected to do: expand knowledge and anticipate the skills their graduates will need to add productively to the nation's workforce, economic well-being, and leadership in the world. These goals create a forum for dialogue that must cross disciplines, sectors, and geographic boundaries.

The heightened demand by the public for performance, and the public expectations that tend to outpace it, should be welcomed. They are indicative of society's appreciation for the role of higher education in the knowledge age and for the solutions that academe, in partnership with industry and government, can provide.

A Time of Significant Stress

Despite the historic accomplishments of our university system, we are in a time of great and complex stress -- stress caused by significant changes in our research and education environment and in our nation. With the end of the Cold War, with the bipartisan recognition of the imperative to cut deficit spending and the necessity to balance the budget, with new demands for accountability in how federal funds are spent. And with the ever-increasing diversity of our student population, old assumptions and boundary conditions are no longer effective. Ironically, these changes, many of which are viewed as limiting our research and education potential, are occurring at a time when we see the brightest future for scientific advances and how those advances can serve the pursuit of national goals. This seeming disconnect between exciting opportunity and sobering constraints must be understood -- and addressed.

Budget Reductions

Clearly, one of the major challenges associated with balancing the federal budget by the year 2002 is achieving that goal while maintaining our nation's leadership in science and technology (S&T). The constraints on federal research funding are driven by the need to eliminate the budget deficit, which grew enormously during the 1980s and stifles investment today. This situation clearly affects the level of research support for universities, about 60% of which comes from the federal government. In the face of austerity in discretionary funding:

For five years, we've protected research and higher education against cuts (the dilemma of the "discretionary" program budget).

In preparing its FY1998 budget, the Administration formulated a budget projection through FY2002 that protects funding levels for health research at NIH, fundamental research at NSF, and DOE's and NASA's science programs, along with the Administration's multi-agency S&T initiatives.

Both basic and applied research budgets increase steadily during this period by about 5% over FY1998.

The overall reduction in R&D funding by FY2002 stems from a planned 7% decrease in development activities, especially those related to defense activities.

These projections are consistent with the President's commitment to balance the budget by FY2002 and satisfy discretionary funding caps. I am very pleased that the projections define a base funding level that is both realistic and achievable to serve as useful planning figures for each agency. I certainly expect that some increases -- including those required to launch exciting new initiatives -- will be realized each year, at the time that year's budget request is prepared and submitted to Congress. The bottom line, thanks to the President's priorities and our favorable economic status, is that the FY1998 budget request for science and technology is substantially higher than we projected it would be a year ago.

In the FY98 budget request, we continue to promote the growth of programs that benefit basic research and therefore universities. Overall, programs that support university scientists did quite well:

NSF and NIH would each be increased by 3%;
Basic research funded by DOE is proposed for a 4.6% increase above FY97 funding levels (remember that previous out year projections had DOE programs sharply decreasing);
The peer-review competitive grant programs at both the USDA (the NRI program) and EPA (the STAR program) are up 38% and 21%, respectively; DOD basic research in the 6.1 account is up by almost 8%; and Science research at NASA is up 3%, including a projected 7% increase in academic R&D.


How stresses on research affect the climate and character of advanced education is the business of both colleges and universities -- the producers -- and of industry -- a prime consumer. One of the ten elements of the President's education plan is to "open the doors of college to all who work hard and make the grade, and make the 13th and 14th years of education as universal as high school." To help us meet this objective, the President has proposed:

  • the HOPE scholarship, a $1,500 tax credit for college tuition, which should be enough to pay for a typical community college tuition;
  • a $10,000 tax deduction for any tuition after high school;
  • an expanded IRA to allow families to save tax-free for college; and
  • the largest increase in 20 years in Pell Grants for deserving students.

While participation in higher education is sought as a key to a robust U.S. workforce, the form of that participation is changing. The information revolution, while creating new opportunities through technology, also is transforming the way colleges and universities accomplish their education mission. Access to university programs is no longer limited by geography or the availability of classroom space. Improvements in the Internet and networking, for example, open new possibilities for distance learning that challenge our traditional views of the resident campus and the clientele it serves. These developments not only expand greatly student and public access to academic life, but also create new pressures on what faculty teach, how they are rewarded, and what constitutes scholarship and good citizenship on campus and in society.

In addition to increasing access to higher education, the President has proposed an aggressive system of national standards in reading and mathematics for grades K through 12. The results of the Third International Math and Science Study, TIMSS, clearly demonstrated the need for our students to improve their overall math and science skills relative to other nations. While we were not at the bottom, our students only performed average compared to the other 40 participating nations. Average scores will not ensure our nation's future leadership in math, science, and technology, and will not ensure future economic prosperity. We must do better.

I dwell on K-12 education because our nation's colleges and universities have a key role to play in improving the performance of our K-12 students in math and science. Such improvements would clearly lower the stress on colleges and universities, too! The President's call for a voluntary national eighth grade mathematics exam is a way of mobilizing the resources of local communities to help schools and districts to identify the conditions and practices that improve academic achievement in all subjects. What better resource for improving science and math literacy and influencing careers than institutions of higher education? In various ways, faculty can help fortify teaching and learning in a classroom that is based on rigorous content standards such as those developed for science by NAS. Combined with high expectations for all students and internationally-benchmarked performance, standards-based instruction can become the norm in U.S. classrooms. Universities, business, and industry all gain through the superior preparation of students and workers. Working together, we can reduce this form of stress.

Specifically, colleges and universities can help students advance toward excellence in at least three ways. First, how we teach our future teachers is of paramount importance. We need a stronger partnership between colleges of education and colleges of science and engineering. Future teachers cannot build on students' natural curiosity about the physical world without first awakening their own, asking questions and developing an appreciation for experimentation, systematic observation, probability, and the making of inferences. Such "literacy" in the methods of inquiry as well as textbook answers is a prerequisite for teaching. If teachers are not equipped -- in content areas, in technology, and in hands-on, inquiry-based pedagogy -- their students (and our next generation workforce) will suffer. New teachers lacking preparation in standards-based instruction will also add to the costs of local professional dev elopment. Why certify teachers who are not state-of-the-art? Why add to the burden of retooling and retraining a veteran teacher workforce? These questions of investment in human resources are best addressed during study toward the baccalaureate. Col leges and universities can exercise quality control over what new teachers are trained to know and do.

Second, higher education is best positioned to increase the knowledge base on "what works" through research and evaluation of models and practices, and to suggest how standards-based classrooms can better utilize technology and sustain high performance in mathematics and science by all students. Through NSF's Systemic Initiatives and the DoED's Goals 2000 program, states and districts are now changing management structures and teaching modes to raise academic performance. We must learn from these experiments in real time. Colleges and universities must be reliable partners of school districts and their teachers, as many companies have been, if the latest research in science and technology is to be successfully adapted to the K-12 classroom. Higher education faculty are human resources for schools and communities. Tapping -- electronically or otherwise -- the diversity of disciplines and cultures among them puts a human face on science. It also increases the potential for mentoring students, as industry programs have long demonstrated.

Third, higher education is often the sector for drawing on talent in the national interest. The President has enlisted student volunteers from over 60 colleges and universities to serve as tutors in the "America Reads" program. To help all students perform to world-class standards in mathematics, a pool of algebra and geometry tutors could likewise volunteer in schools and community-based organizations, after school and on weekends, to augment classroom instruction and enrich mathematics teaching and learning by the eighth grade. Such an initiative, which higher education could organize and run in collaboration with industry, is citizenship in the purest sense of sharing knowledge and expanding options. We know that such interactions during the impressionable middle-schools years can make a big difference. The President has established annual awards for mentoring, which is especially important for under represented minority students studying math, science, and engineering both in K-12 and college. I solicit your commitment to do more in partnership with K-12 schools and students nation-wide.

It is in the mutual interest of the producers and consumers of new graduates to ensure that talent is drawn from all segments of the population, and that their mix of skills and knowledge is well-matched to the job opportunities of the 21st century. This is neither easy nor readily predictable. It is stressful. But colleges and universities are adept at tackling hard problems and forging new solutions, mindful -- at least some of the time -- that "the key to the future is to forget past successes."


It is often said that what were once virtues are now necessities. The Administration through the Vice President's work with the National Performance Review has committed to making government work better, cost less, and impose less of a burden on our citizens and institutions. The common sense approach that we're taking to government means that:

government focuses on results, instead of burying us in rules and punishing those who don't comply;
government recognizes that its customers come first; and
the people get their money's worth that government works constantly to be better, faster, and cheaper while delivering quality services.

Despite a litany of progress, we need to do more. Inefficient and overly bureaucratic regulations continue to erode the buying power of scarce federal resources. I believe that the regulatory arena, however complex, is ripe for reform. Unfortunately, the legal and bureaucratic structures that are in place to enforce many of these regulations have multiple constituencies and purposes. For example, should EPA regulate the relatively small amounts of hazardous wastes generated by a university labs the same way it regulates waste generated by industry? Balancing the statutory requirements, regulatory requirements, and other directives and orders requires careful attention so that the federal side of the partnership doesn't smother the university side. We must use common sense to identify and change those regulatory constraints that are redundant, not science-based, or erode federal-university partnership.

For academic institutions conducting government-sponsored research, no issue raises more hackles than "OMB Circular A-21." This circular articulates the financial terms of the long-standing partnership between universities and the Federal Government for the support of research. Just as the overall partnership must be dynamic to maintain its vitality in the face of changing circumstances, the guidelines in A-21 must also change periodically to reflect evolving responsibilities, scientific practice, technology, the laws of Congress, and changes in the financial environment, human resources, and the physical research infrastructure.

Over the past five years, we have made some significant changes to Circular A-21. However, I know that from the universities' perspective not all of those changes have been for the better. We are trying to balance competing interests: the need to maximize the impact of our federal research dollars with the need to ensure appropriate levels of fiscal accountability.

Because Federal regulations can have a profound effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of academic institutions and researchers, we have been working for several years with Federal agencies, academic organizations, and the Federal Demonstration Partnership to identify further regulatory reforms that can ease the burden. This process of progressive regulatory reform will only work if you -- our university partners -- continue to implement cost containment measures and monitor how your institutions fulfill the redefined requirements. Consider, too, that regulation is an arena where the more extensive but relevant experience of industry in producing efficiencies of outcome and other economies could shape projects by colleges and universities.


A major activity just getting underway is a comprehensive federal assessment of the rules and procedures that promote or constrain the federal government-university partnership. Under the authority of the NSTC, I issued a Presidential Review Directive, or PRD, to form a multi-agency task force under the direction of the Committee on Fundamental Science, to focus on the major stresses in the areas of research, education, and administrative regulations, and to determine what the federal role should be in addressing those stresses. Dr. Ernie Moniz will speak to you about this later this morning.


In summary, we are counting on our colleges and universities, in concert with their partners and in the spirit of the GUIR Roundtable, to shoulder a significant set of responsibilities in this time of national reexamination and substantial evolution of our investments in the future. This reinforces our commitment to sustaining the health of the university system as part of a shared commitment to the prosperity, security, and quality of life of all our citizens.

In the President's State of the Union address, he issued a call to strengthen education and harness the forces of technology and science to enable the kind of future we aspire to. We have the mandate. We now must have the will to move together from rhetoric to action. Taken in the right spirit, stress, like the proverbial night before the hanging, can focus the mind!

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1997 Remarks

Remarks: Stresses on Research and Education

Remarks: Presidential Advisory Committee for High-Performance Computing

Remarks: Technology Partnering

Remarks: Council on Competitiveness

FY98 R&D Budget Review

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