Earlier this month, BioCrossroads — which advances the state’s strengths in the life sciences sector — made public a report titled "The Importance of Research Universities." The report, prepared by TEConomy Partners, noted that research universities provide significant benefits that positively influence economic development, human capital, knowledge expansion and innovation, and societal well-being and quality of life.
Fundamental or basic research conducted throughout American higher education is supported by funding which historically has been provided by the federal government. State support, private philanthropic investments, and industry partnerships have also been critical to fostering these research efforts, and Indiana’s research universities continually strive to strengthen connections with government and industry so research lives beyond the laboratory and has real world impact. This is one key to the success of Indiana’s research universities.
Another key is their willingness to collaborate, which provides a distinct competitive advantage when pursuing funding opportunities and otherwise contributing to the state’s economic vitality. Working together, our state’s research universities can assemble world-class talent, infrastructure and resources to address challenges faced by government and industry alike.
The Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute — a collaboration among Indiana University, Purdue University, and the University of Notre Dame — is just one example of strategic partnering. The institute’s many programs align each respective university’s researchers and infrastructure in areas tied to the development of medical devices, inpatient and outpatient clinical studies, precision health initiatives, industry contract management, and commercialization of discoveries into market-ready products.
Another promising collaboration just launched this past summer is the Applied Research Institute — a joint enterprise comprised of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, Indiana University, Purdue University, and the Battery Innovation Center. The ARI will facilitate and manage collaborative research teams to pursue major federal grants and contracts and perform corporate-sponsored research that will generate technology transfer and commercialization in military defense and other sectors of Indiana’s economy.
While collaboration among the state’s research universities will continue to grow and benefit Indiana’s economy through the 21st century, the schools also continue to garner strong results in their own right. At my own institution, Indiana University’s Grand Challenges program is a bold commitment to address major, focused and large-scale problems that face humanity. We are pioneering the approach of pairing faculty and students from all disciplines in partnership with cross-sector teams of government, community and business leaders.
The program aggregates $300 million in research dollars over a five-year period. The three already-announced initiatives aim to improve precision health in order to cure disease; to prepare the state for the impact of environmental change on our economy, health and livelihood; and to respond to the growing opioid addiction crisis, which has grown to the point that Hoosiers are more likely to die from a drug overdose than a car accident. Research conducted throughout IU campuses for these projects will have near-term impact, and the resulting improvements in quality of life will be far-reaching.
The authors of the BioCrossroads report wrote, "It is evident that the future of the United States (and Indiana) is very much tied to the performance of a complex research ecosystem — one in which research universities serve a series of unique and crucial functions." They also noted that IU, Notre Dame and Purdue could continue to strengthen the impact of their research, and we are working diligently to do so.
But it is also clear that we are doing a lot well, and have been for a long time. Hoosiers can be proud of the work conducted at our state’s research universities. Our successes in the sciences, technology, engineering, agriculture, medicine, humanities, and other disciplines are improving lives across the state, the nation and the world — and will continue to do so.
Bill Stephan is Vice President for Engagement at Indiana University.