Higher ed’s role in America’s reinvention

american-flag-795301_640There’s a global technology revolution under way, and despite what the pessimists say, the United States is leading the way, not falling behind. And the U.S. educational system plays a big role in this revolution.

That’s the assessment of Washington Post contributor Vivek Wadhwa, who holds impressive credentials at Stanford and Duke, and Edward Alden, who directs the Renewing America initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. In a recent Washington Post article, America’s reinvention is helping it leap further ahead of the world, Wadhwa and Alden discuss a new Council on Foreign Relations report on innovation that presents an optimistic view of America’s innovative spirit in the midst of lingering economic uncertainty.

Pessimists who say “the country’s best days are behind it” are wrong. Wadhwa and Alden write. In fact:

Not only is the United States leading a technology revolution that will help solve the grand challenges of humanity — problems such as disease, hunger and shortages of energy and clean water — it is increasing its lead on the rest of the world. By combining its entrepreneurial strengths with its creativity, it is reinventing itself once again.

While the authors tout the private sector’s significant role in this reinvention, they also credit federal programs like the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which benefited companies like Apple and Intel in their early days. And they rightly point to the nation’s higher education system as another key ingredient that fosters innovation.

The U.S. university system, with its mixture of public and private support, autonomous administrations, and competition-based funding for research, is also uniquely successful at generating commercially relevant research breakthroughs. The system can be improved significantly, but it has fueled world-changing innovations. Other countries are trying to find the U.S. secret sauce, but without much success.

There are dangers looming, of course. Wadhwa and Alden cite budget pressures on public universities and federal funding for basic scientific research. These are two more key ingredients for the secret sauce of innovation. The private sector can’t do it alone. “Entrepreneurs can work hand in hand with universities in commercializing scientific breakthrough, but they can’t invest the time and money to create them.”

The bottom line: Partnerships between the private sector, the government and our higher education system have paid great benefits in the past, and they will continue to do so, if we as a nation are farsighted enough to keep investing in higher education, R&D and federal programs like SBIR.

Image via Pixabay.

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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