West Virginia University President Jim Clements, who also serves as secretary of the Council of Presidents of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, joined nearly 200 other university leaders from around the country Wednesday (July 31) in signing an open letter to President Barack Obama and the 113th Congress in support of federal funding for research to close what they call the “innovation deficit.”

The effort, which includes a public information campaign, is sponsored by APLU and the Association of American Universities. Clements will become chair of the APLU Board of Directors in 2015.

The Innovation Deficit Facts

  • Over the last ten years, U.S. R&D expenditures as a share of economic output have remained nearly constant in the U.S., but have increased by nearly 50% in South Korea and nearly 90% in China.
  • From 1996 to 2007, R&D expenditures in the U.S. grew by an average of 5.8% annually. During the same time period, China’s average annual growth was 21.9%. During the first year of the economic slowdown (2008-09), U.S. expenditures decreased slightly while China’s increased by 27%.
  • Between 2000 and 2008, the number of engineering doctorates awarded in China more than tripled to 15,000. This compared to a total of 8,100 in the United States, of which only about 3,200 went to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
  • According to the OECD, government R&D spending between 2000 and 2009 increased by 250% in Korea and 330% in China; U.S. government R&D spending increased by about 45% during the same period.
  • From 1987 to 2008, federal R&D investment grew at just 0.3 percent per year in inflation-adjusted dollars—much lower than its 4.9-percent average annual growth rate from 1953 to 1987—and ten times lower than the rate of GDP growth over that period.
  • The United States spent up to 17 percent of discretionary spending on R&D during the 1960’s, in part due to the space program, which resulted in a great deal of spinoff innovation; in recent years, outlays have fallen to around 9 percent of the federal discretionary budget.
  • In 2008, China awarded 1 million first university degrees in natural sciences and engineering, up from 280,000 in 2000. That same year, the total number of first university degrees in natural sciences and engineering awarded in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan (330,000) exceeded the 248,000 earned by U.S. students, despite the considerably larger U.S. population.
  • The proportion of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office patent grants given to U.S. entities declined from 55% in 1995 to less than half in 2010. (Source: NSF S&E Indicators 2012, Appendix Table 6-45)
  • The percentage of U.S. gross domestic expenditures on R&D funded by the government declined from 47.1% in 1981 to 33.4% in 2011. The U.S. trails nine OECD nations in this percentage.

Here is the text of the letter, which was published as an advertisement in Politico. More information is available at: http://www.innovationdeficit.org/home.html.

Dear President Obama & Members of the 113th Congress:

Our nation’s role as the world’s innovation leader is in serious jeopardy. The combination of eroding federal investments in research and higher education, additional cuts due to sequestration, and the enormous resources other nations are pouring into these areas is creating a new kind of deficit for the United States: an innovation deficit. Closing this innovation deficit – the widening gap between needed and actual investments – must be a national imperative.

Ignoring the innovation deficit will have serious consequences: 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. But the consequences are inevitable if we do not reverse course.

The path for resolving appropriations, the debt limit, and a potential long-term budget agreement this fall is unclear. What should be clear is that the answer to our nation’s fiscal woes must include sustained strategic federal investments in research and student financial aid to close the innovation deficit and bolster our nation’s economic and national security for decades to come.

More than half of U.S. economic growth since World War II is a consequence of technological innovation, overwhelmingly resulting from federally-funded scientific research. Such groundbreaking research has led to life-saving vaccines, lasers, MRI, touchscreens, GPS, the Internet, and many other advances that have improved lives and generated entire new sectors of our economy. Many of the university researchers making those discoveries would not have the opportunity to be in their labs were it not for federal support of research and higher education.

Having witnessed this nation’s success at turning investments in research and higher education into innovation and economic growth, countries such as China, Singapore, and Korea have dramatically increased their own investments in these areas. Over the past decade these other nations’ investments have climbed at two to four times the rate of U.S. research and development expenditures. It is equally troubling that the U.S. has fallen to 16th among developed countries in the share of young adults who hold college degrees. Our nation is rapidly losing ground, and further cuts including sequestration will only exacerbate the problem.

Because the innovation deficit undermines economic growth it harms our nation’s overall fiscal health, worsening long-term budget deficits and debt. Investments in research and education are not inconsistent with long-term deficit reduction; they are vital to it.

Throughout our history, this nation has kept the promise of a better tomorrow to each generation. This has been possible because of our economic prosperity based in large part on America’s role as global innovation leader. Failing to deal with the innovation deficit will pass to future generations the burdens of lost leadership in innovation, economic decline, and limited job opportunities.

We call upon you to reject unsound budget cuts and recommit to strong and sustained investments in research and education. Only then can we ensure that our nation’s promise of a better tomorrow endures.



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