The Texas research development fund: building institutional research capacity at Texas public universities.

Author:Rosales, Laura Leal


Since the 1940'S and 1950's, the United States has sought to maintain its competitive edge in science and engineering. Prior to World War II, federal government resources devoted to scientific research and innovation were limited. However, by the end of the war, the United States realized that sustained scientific research could provide new technologies in communications, transportation, and weaponry. One of the best-known examples of the role of science in World War II is the Manhattan Project, which culminated in the creation of the first atomic bomb. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth. Fearing that the Soviets would rise to superiority in math and science, the U.S. federal government further expanded its role of research in science (Lewis, 2005).

"Research and development (R&D) is essential for U.S. economic strength, technological leadership, and national security. Strength in science and technology is important because it is an essential ingredient for U.S. economic and military strength" (Lewis, 2005, p. 3). While the federal government has played an active role in funding R&D, its emphasis has been more on development than on basic research which according to Lewis (2005), is critical for the nation's economy and national security. Basic research has no immediate commercial application or use, but it fuels innovation. Because it takes years to see the results of basic research through products and services, and because businesses and industry seek more immediate return on their investments, private industry is less likely to fund basic research (Lewis, 2005). According to the National Science Foundation (NSF) (2007), colleges and universities spent over $45 billion in R&D expenditures in fiscal year 2005. Of that amount, over $29 billion came from federal sources and over $8 billion came from the institutions themselves. Industry, states/local governments, and other sources funded very little university-based R&D: over $2 billion, almost $3 billion, and over $3 billion respectively. Most federal funds are not applied to the research infrastructure of universities, but rather serves as the main source for specific research projects (Lewis, 2005). When equipment and labs, which build institutional research capacity, are included in a grant, they are usually targeted to a specific project. This leaves institutions to rely more on non-federal sources to increase their research capacity (Marburger, 2006).

The U.S. faces a number of challenges as it enters the 21st century: globalization, transition to an information economy, a competitive international business environment, the economic rise of Asia, and sophisticated commercial technologies. Without an increase in scientific research, investment in science and technology, and an enhanced research capacity, the U.S. will not maintain its competitive advantage in national security and economic strength (Lewis, 2005).

A Strategic Plan for Texas

In 1998, Don W. Brown, Texas Higher Education Commissioner, formed a panel of higher education professionals "to review the responsibilities and procedures of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), and to recommend any changes that would increase its value to Texas higher education's quality, access, efficiency, and responsiveness to state needs" (Report of the Review Panel, 1998, Background section, para. 1). Commissioner Brown asked the panel to focus on two specific issues facing Texas: (1) how to provide opportunities for individuals to participate and succeed in higher education in Texas, and (2) how to meet the growing demand of higher education over the next 10-15 years while state appropriations of general revenue are not expected to increase at the same rate (Report of the Review Panel, 1998).

The panel met with higher education representatives, legislators, the Governor, Texas business leaders who were former higher education institution trustees, THECB members, and Commissioner Brown. The panel also reviewed recommendations from colleges and universities, THECB planning documents, agendas, and legislation outlining the THECB's responsibilities (Report of the Review Panel, 1998). The Report of the Review Panel, issued in April 1998, made three main recommendations: (1) build on the THECB's strengths, (2) reassign responsibilities or streamline the procedures for addressing issues, and (3) adopt a long-term view that focuses on the most critical issues facing Texas and creates a public agenda for higher education in Texas.

As a result of the initial meetings, a Coordinating Board Planning Committee was appointed and charged with the task of developing a new higher education plan. The new plan included: (1) setting goals, (2) setting dates to reach the goals, and (3) creating a means to measure progress towards the goals. The efforts of more than 1,500 individuals and groups in the higher education community culminated in October 2000 with the THECB's Closing the Gaps Higher Education Plan (Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, n.d.a).

This document outlines a long-term plan that addresses the four goals of closing the gaps in higher education-participation, success, educational excellence, and funded research over the next 15 years. These four goals were the most critical issues facing Texas higher education from the perspective of the committee and the higher education community. Each goal included interim targets for closing the gaps and success strategies for the state. The purpose of the Closing the Gaps Higher Education Plan was for...

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