Chancellor, other university leaders warn of 'innovation deficit'

Open letter to President Obama, congress published in Politico

Photo of Chancellor Blumenthal
Chancellor George Blumenthal

George Blumenthal, chancellor of UC Santa Cruz, is one of 165 university presidents and chancellors in the United States who have signed an open letter to President Obama and members of congress, expressing concern about federal budget cuts to research and higher education.

Published in Politico today, the letter asked the nation's leaders to close an “innovation deficit” that has resulted from a reduction in funding to U.S. universities at a time when other nations are increasing their higher education investments.

Chancellor Blumenthal and fellow university leaders wrote in the letter that closing the innovation deficit – the widening gap between needed and actual investments in research and education – must be a national imperative. The higher education leaders noted that research and higher education investments lead to the types of innovation and new technologies that power the nation’s economy, create jobs and reduce the budget deficit — while ensuring that the U.S. maintains its role as global leader.

In the past year, Blumenthal has authored several published op-eds on the subject. In a post today on his blog, the chancellor wrote, "We need to take the long view, recognizing that these investments pay off over decades. We are still reaping the dividends of investments made in the 1960s, when California made funding public higher education a priority, and the federal government invested heavily in research, graduate education, and discovery, much of it linked to the space program."

The 165 university leaders who signed the letter today warned that 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," they added. "Only then can we ensure that our nation’s promise of a better tomorrow endures.”

More than half of U.S. economic growth since World War II is the result of technological innovation, much of which results from federally funded scientific research conducted at U.S. universities. The university leaders pointed out that university 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 in the economy.

China, Singapore and South Korea have dramatically increased their investments in research and higher education over the past two decades after observing how those kinds of investments have benefited the U.S. economy, the letter said. China, Singapore and South Korea have had two to four times the U.S. rate of growth in research and development investment during that period.

Congress faces critical budget decisions in the coming months, with annual funding bills, the debt limit, and measures to eliminate or modify deep, across-the-board spending cuts forced by sequestration.

The university presidents and chancellors noted in their letter that targeted investments in research and higher education should be made regardless of overall funding levels because they would be key sources of long-term economic growth and fiscal stability.

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