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Business Officer Magazine
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Focused on the Future of Funding

Approximately 75 senior-level business officers from research universities across the country-and from New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates-gathered together at NACUBO's Executive Exchange for Research Universities. The day of programming provided a forum for networking, sharing of ideas and challenges, and meaningful conversation. At lunch, business officers shared ideas and solutions related to new revenue streams, administrative procedures, and compliance. In the afternoon sessions, participants considered the future of administrative systems and governmental regulatory reform efforts.

Here are highlights of two of the sessions.

Which Way for Research?

In the morning session, "The Future of Research Universities: Candid Conversations With University Leaders," attendees heard two views regarding what may be in store for higher education research.

On the bright side, said William "Brit" Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, America's research universities are on the verge of so many phenomenal breakthroughs in cosmology, medicine, alternative energy, and more. At the same time, government support of research and public higher education has been steadily on the decline. How might this impact the higher education research sector? Kirwan suggested several possibilities:

  • We may see fewer research universities in the coming decade and, at the least, many institutions will experience a real squeeze in sustaining their research portfolio.
  • Development of intellectual property will become a greater expectation in exchange for funding, and a growing proportion of research will be funded by the private sector.
  • Centers of research excellence will become more globally distributed. As a result, U.S. universities must consider strategic partnerships with other U.S. and international partners.
  • As with all higher education institutions, research universities will have to find lower-cost means of delivering higher quality education, primarily through finding new ways to carry out teaching and learning—such as online learning.

For David Daniel, president of the University of Texas at Dallas, as research universities go, so goes the nation. If in fact the future holds fewer U.S. research universities, he believes the country may be in trouble. The growing population alone would call for more, not fewer, universities, he asserted. "The general public doesn't have a good idea of why research universities are so important," he argued. And it's not because of payroll for whom these institutions directly employ, noted Daniel. Rather, their great contribution is the ideas and discoveries created by the graduates of these hotbeds of innovation.

Like Kirwan, Daniel believes the private sector will play a greater role in funding university research, and higher education leaders must engage the conversation surrounding pricing structure. Other specific financial ideas he offered:

  • Research universities must become better partners with community colleges, which are central to addressing issues of access and affordability.
  • Institutions must leverage public and private matching gifts program and graduate fellowships.
  • With a trend to free-market tuition, institutions must focus on well-qualified students.
  • Universities will need to accept performance-based criteria for funding.

Regulatory Reform

In an afternoon session, "Research Universities and Governmental Regulatory Reform Efforts," Dean Currie, vice president for business and finance at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, moderated a conversation with Toby Smith, vice president for policy at the Association of American Universities; and Tony DeCrappeo, president, Council on Governmental Relations.

DeCrappeo and Smith reported on the status of several efforts the White House Office of Management and Budget  has under way to develop "the best, most innovative, and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends," as called for in an Executive Order issued by President Obama last year. DeCrappeo and Smith discussed the serious implications of the various proposals now being explored in Washington. Attendees engaged in a somewhat sobering dialogue on the outlook for maximizing resources available for research, and minimizing administrative costs and burdens emanating from federal requirements.

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