The U.S. Congress fears that America's universities are at risk of falling behind. In a response to that, it mandated the National Research Council (NRC) to investigate how the competitiveness of the U.S. higher education sector can be boosted.
The NRC report states that "America is driven by innovation… Our nation's primary source of both new knowledge and graduates with advanced skills continues to be our research universities." These, however, increasingly face challenges such as "unstable revenue streams, antiquated policies and practices, demographic change and increasing competition from universities abroad".
10 points to foster innovation
This would necessitate a number of reforms vital the future of an innovative U.S. Among them is the demand of creating a stable nationwide policy fostering university R&D and graduate education. At the same, greater autonomy should be given to public research universities, an issue which is also currently being addressed in Europe.
In this context, it is furthermore paramount to strengthen the links between research institutes and businesses, the NRC states. Goal should be to accelerate the transfer of knowledge into the real economy. Finally, the overall output of graduates should be increased while sustaining a higher level of internationalization. Here, U.S. institutes are experiencing great popularity as recent data shows.
Reforming graduate education
Among the 10 recommendations, a major reform of graduate education is suggested:
"Improve the capacity of graduate programs to attract talented students by addressing issues such as attrition rates, time-to-degree, funding, and alignment with both student career opportunities and national interests.
Scholarships targeting research priorities
The number of federal fellowships and traineeships should be increased to support 5,000 new graduate students per year in science and engineering, an investment amounting to $325 million in year 1 and climbing to a steady-state expenditure of $1.625 billion per year. This funding is not designed to increase the overall numbers of doctoral students per se, but to provide incentives for students to pursue areas responding to national needs and to shift support from research assistantships to mechanisms that strengthen doctoral training. Implementing other aspects of our recommendation will save money for the federal government, universities, and students. Improving completion rates and reducing time-to-degree in doctoral programs, for example, will increase the cost-effectiveness of federal and other investments in this area.
On the whole, improving pathways to doctoral degrees will ensure that we draw strongly from among the "best and brightest" across fields that are critical to our nation's future. Strengthening preparation of doctorates for a broad range of careers, not just those in academia, assists students in their careers, along with employers who need their staff to be productive in the short term."