15 Ways University Research Contributed to Shape America and World

Guest Post by Jasmine Hall

Most people, unless they’re in a research-based or academic field, don’t spend much time thinking about where the latest innovations in medicine, technology, science, or even the economy come from. While private sector businesses play a role, often the leading edge of research is found in America’s universities. Research labs at universities may not get much attention, but their impact on local communities as well as the nation as a whole can be quite large. In fact, you may not even realize the impact university research has had on your daily life, even if you live in a community close to a research center. Read on to learn how the leading research universities in the U.S. are shaping how we live, work, and play in a variety of ways.

  1. Research universities help support regional economiesA study by Cleveland State University published in 2010, demonstrated that research universities can have a big impact on the surrounding communities. While it’s tough to separate the economic impact of the schools from other factors, the research team found that aside from normal seasonal changes, the presence of research universities had a positive effect on local economies, with the largest and wealthiest universities naturally having a stronger impact on the surrounding community. With dozens of research universities across the nation, the cumulative impact of research universities may actually be quite large, in some communities providing revenues well into the billions of dollars.
  2. Universities conduct the majority of basic research in the USWithout research universities, many new innovations and breakthroughs in science might never happen. With the help of government funding, research universities conduct more than 55% of the basic research done in the United States. In comparison, businesses and industries conduct only 20% of basic research. This means that there’s a pretty good chance that the groundbreaking discoveries you’re reading about in the paper got their start at a research university.
  3. Start-up companies that emerge from research done at universities are more likely to be successfulThis doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to start a business using privately-funded research, but studies have shown that companies spun out of research universities have higher success rates then other companies. They’re also better able to create jobs and spur economic activity. These are all great things, especially in an economic downturn, and help demonstrate the lasting impact on the economy that work done at research universities can have. If you’re looking for an example, consider Google, whose founders completed their basic research at Stanford with an NSF grant before going on to found one of the biggest and most revolutionary tech companies in history.
  4. University research is one of the biggest creators of jobsInnovation hasn’t really slowed down much in light of the economic downturn, so the jobs provided by university research projects, either directly or indirectly, has continued to grow. The more research being done, the more lab assistants and other qualified personnel universities need to hire in order to complete their work. Of course, that’s not the only way university research stimulates job growth. Research universities often help create spin-off startups, which are currently the main source of job growth in America (big business may not be hiring in huge numbers, but small businesses are). Additionally, they attract cutting-edge businesses to local communities by providing a highly qualified pool of applicants, creating more jobs not only for researchers, but also in a wide range of other support positions.
  5. They shape U.S. policies and regulationsWhile you might not realize it, many laws regarding science, technology, and business have been the product of issues that have come up in university research. In a recent example, the Supreme Court revised its position on inventions that arise from federal funding. Generally, inventions belong to the person who thought them up, but regulations on federal funding can sometimes complicate that, making it hard to figure out who has the right to patent and profit from discoveries. While there are acts regulating inventions that result from federal funding, the courts decided that at the end of the day, an invention is an inventor’s to allocate how he or she sees fit. This is just one example of how issues that come out of research can shape major court rulings, but there are many others out there.

  1. Research universities are major producers of patentsWhile universities conduct a great deal of research just for knowledge’s sake alone, they also do applied research, often getting patents in the process. Take the University of California as an example. The school currently holds over 6,600 patents, a number that is growing exponentially as the school produces thousands of new inventions each year. Often licensed to private companies, these patents net the school hundreds of million in revenue. Not everyone thinks this is a great idea, however, as it can reduce collaboration and often costs millions in legal fees. Yet it isn’t likely that this billion dollar industry is going to slow down anytime soon, so expect to see research universities raking in the patents for years to come.
  2. University research is an amazing economic investmentThere are few things that provide as big of a return on federal dollars as university research. At the University of Maryland, for example, studies suggest that each dollar put into funding research at the university yields eight dollars in economic impact. Over the past decade, the school’s 110,000 spun-off startups have make over $300 million at a cost of only $9 million. That’s a 35 fold gain, something even the highest performing stocks often don’t offer. Even better, innovations from universities help keep America on top in the R&D world economy, something we can’t afford to lose.
  3. Research universities often partner with businesses and industryNot all funding for research done at America’s universities comes from the government or tuition dollars. In fact, in light of the current economic troubles many university systems are facing, partnerships with local businesses are looking better and better. Minnesota is one state cashing in on licensing and research agreements with companies. Through their Innovation Partnership, the school is setting aside the often protracted legal battles that have become the norm when haggling over commercial rights, instead offering companies access to top-notch researchers and facilities in exchange for funding. In many cases, these developments could lead to new drugs, chemicals, and other innovations that may directly impact the everyday lives of Americans.
  4. Many health breakthroughs have come from research universitiesFrom medicines to surgical procedures to studies on public health, research universities are the seat of the vast majority of health and medical research being done in America. How we take care of ourselves and the technologies and methods we use to screen and treat diseases are commonly developed at leading research universities. Organ transplants, disease testing, mobile labs, and even the reasons we can’t stick to our fitness resolutions have all been the subject of study at research universities. Not only have these breakthroughs helped us live longer, they’ve also changed our attitudes about what we think is healthy and how we care for our bodies.
  5. Much of what we understand about our universe is the product of university researchThere isn’t much profit to be made, at least at present, from understanding our place in the universe, the structure of atoms, or finding an Earth-like planet light years away. What this research does offer us is answers to some of man’s fundamental questions about life. Nearly all research done into these aspects of science is performed by research universities and federally-funded departments. While it might not boost the economy or provide large numbers of jobs, it does give us more knowledge about our world, our universe, and ultimately ourselves, and inspires many young people to have a passion for science.

  1. Research universities are focusing on green initiatives.Not only are campuses themselves embracing being more green and sustainable, but researchers at universities are at the leading edge of much of the green tech and energy study being done today. Often working with industry partners or spun-off startups, research universities are tackling new ways to harness the power of the sun, reduce the environmental impact of oil drilling, or develop new, less harmful chemical agents. Without this publicly-funded research, it’s unlikely that many green technologies would be as advanced as they are today.
  2. Top research universities draw in students from around the worldThe best research universities in America are also some of the best research universities in the world. For that reason, they often draw in top students worldwide who want to study, learn, and experiment on their campuses. How does this shape America? It not only brings in top minds who may ultimately go on to work at U.S. businesses, but it also increases diversity and makes many college towns more cosmopolitan, cultured, and aware. In a global economy, those are increasingly more desirable traits to have.
  3. Many state economies have a large stake in research universities.We’ve already mentioned that research universities can have a big impact on local economies, but in some states (mainly those with the largest research schools) making sure their universities are happy, thriving, and drawing in students is a top priority. Texas is a great example. With major funding cuts for research in the state, many business and education leaders are speaking out, worried about the long-term ramifications of the changes. With major corporations like Dell and Exxon Mobile headquartered near Texas’ major research schools, providing businesses with qualified employees is a big concern. Additionally, if fewer students are drawn to state schools, the state will lose revenue from tuition, lodging food and other costs. Most important, however, less funding for research can be a major loss when it comes to leading in innovation. Researchers at University of Texas’ main campus in Austin do about $1.8 billion in research on nanotech, which sounds like a lot, but is a drop in the bucket when you consider that the industry is worth $3 trillion worldwide. That’s big money for any state to lose its stake in.
  4. Academic research drives the national innovation system in the U.SWhile not all research in America takes place at universities, the system is largely driven by work being done in universities both big and small on topics that are applicable to industrial or business use. This is especially true when it comes to things like network systems and communications, medical devices and equipment, and aerospace. Often, businesses and industries get ideas from the basic research done at universities and use it to develop practical applications. Additionally, there are often collaborations between academic and business interests that benefit both. The majority of innovative research that takes place in the U.S. is in same way connected to university-based research, making it the driving force behind much of our technology and science development in certain sectors.
  5. Research universities train the next generation of workers for high-tech and in-demand jobsAside from their immediate economic benefit, there is a long-term effect of research universities that can’t be overlooked: the graduates they produce. These graduates, many often holding higher degrees in their fields, get the skills they need to work in high-demand fields like technology, engineering, or biotechnology. By training the industrial and business workforce, research universities shape the future of these technologies in the American economy and beyond. This may play an especially big role in fields like green energy, where there are currently not enough qualified applicants to fill available positions.

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About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
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One Response to 15 Ways University Research Contributed to Shape America and World

  1. Pingback: Big Target, Bigger Cuts «

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