Tuesday, 31 March 2015 13:53
PAR report: Louisiana, colleges rank poor but few steps off right track

lsuThe Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana has released a new research report, "Innovation in Louisiana: Maximizing Investment in University Research to Promote a Knowledge-Based Economy." The report examines the state of university research and development in Louisiana and makes recommendations to state leaders, higher education officials and businesses to foster a better environment for innovation.

 The state and its metro regions can, and should, join the ranks of other areas across the nation and around the world with diverse economies built on creative human capital and innovation. These are factors linked to quality job growth and regional economic prosperity. That kind of success must be nourished by universities with well developed cultures that promote enterprising research and development programs and maintain a strong focus on economic development.

"A great deal is asked of our universities these days. They are expected to offer diverse and solid academic environments, degree programs relevant to the Louisiana workplace and world-class research, all with diminishing finances," PAR President Robert Travis Scott said. "That is why the recommendations in this report are both important and realistic. Better leveraging of existing research funding is critical. Also, universities and their local economies can benefit by elevating the role of university research foundations to bring ideas to the marketplace."

Although the state and its colleges rank poorly on many key innovation metrics, Louisiana is in fact only a few steps off the right path toward becoming a relatively high-performance player in the new competitive world of university R&D. Leaders and innovators across Louisiana have begun to break down old walls and implement forward-thinking strategies to build creative and relevant programs with strong implications for economic development. New leaders in Louisiana higher education are attuned to the needs for change. Critical financial resources, even in these difficult budgetary times, are readily available. Now is the time for university, government and business leaders to take Louisiana to the next level.

This PAR report makes the case for why innovation matters in Louisiana and focuses on two major elements: the intellectual infrastructure in our universities and the mechanisms for knowledge transfer into the economy. PAR's report offers an independent and statewide analysis; it is both more critical and more optimistic than many studies conducted in the past by the actors themselves or studies restricted to a regional or institutional level.

The report reviews the characteristics of a strong innovation environment, including strong leadership that values partnerships, world-class research in areas of importance to industry clusters, and prominent faculty. Universities also need tools, programs, and resources to move research and inventions into the market.
Most universities in Louisiana historically have lacked some or all of these traits, which is reflected in R&D performance and rankings. The outputs from R&D at Louisiana universities have been disappointingly low, even when adjusted for the amount of research dollars invested. Chapter Two of the report takes an in-depth look at the various measurements for state and university R&D performance and the trends leading to a more innovation-driven economy. No single metric can capture the whole story, but what emerges is a clear picture that the state and its schools overall do not stack up well nationally or regionally.

To its advantage, Louisiana has a strong legal foundation for R&D investment, nationally recognized tax incentives and several pockets of excellence, including Louisiana Tech's nationally recognized programs for cyber-engineering and cybersecurity, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's NSF Center for Visual and Decision Informatics and the LSU Engineering school partnership with IBM. Chapter Three relates these underappreciated success stories and uses these examples to demonstrate the formulas, cultures and practices that lead to success and that should be emulated.

Chapter Four provides a detailed critique of Louisiana's use of innovation resources, in particular the Board of Regents Support Fund. Louisiana has the capacity to fund additional and more targeted R&D through the constitutionally dedicated Support Fund, which delivers more than $23 million annually in dedicated financing. Unfortunately, the funds are dispersed across nine programs and fail to target particular research priorities. This chapter analyzes how this fund is being underutilized based on 30-year-old guidelines that cherish small awards thinly spread to public and private colleges across the state. The opportunity cost is evident: Over the same period and with similar state financial resources, Georgia has developed a national model for a university research support program called the Georgia Research Alliance.

Chapter Five makes 46 specific recommendations for progress and encourages the adoption of new principles and a better culture of innovation. The recommendations are tailored specifically in messages to the governor and executive branch, the Legislature, the Board of Regents, the university systems and business and industry. Each of these sectors of influence has a job to do.

With so many economic, educational and political developments occurring in Louisiana, the subject of innovation policy may seem like a small, niche issue of no real concern to the general public. In fact, it is one of the most critical policy and program areas influencing the future of the state. Louisiana's innovation policy will determine whether the economy of the state - and its metropolitan areas in particular - will be structured for growth and competition for the rest of the 21st Century.

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