On Jan. 29, Chaouki Abdallah, Georgia Tech’s executive vice president for Research, testified before a U.S. House of Representatives committee about the cooperative United States research and development (R&D) enterprise, including the threat of falling behind other nations in critical technologies, investment in the nation’s institutions of higher education, and the future of the STEM talent pipeline.
Along with Abdallah, the hearing brought together expert testimony from representatives from federal and industry perspectives, including Diane Souvaine, chair of the National Science Board, and Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and founder of Schmidt Futures.
In his testimony to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Abdallah stressed the importance of maintaining the U.S. position of leadership in R&D, and the importance of the collaboration between the federal government, higher education, and the private sector.
“The mission, alignment, and cooperation of these three actors have historically made the U.S. research landscape the most productive and admired in the world … and made the U.S. safer, healthier, and wealthier.”
He testified that those successes have also created competitors that now pose a threat to the nation’s competitiveness in critical technologies. The U.S. now risks falling behind in areas such as cybersecurity, quantum information systems, advanced manufacturing and materials, bioscience, and others. Those threats, Abdallah shared, pose an immediate national security risk and a long-term economic risk, including a negative effect on the capacity of the U.S. to create new knowledge, the potential to diminish the nation’s industry, and the possibility of losing the ability to attract the best and brightest minds in the world.
In his remarks, Abdallah testified that the United States must commit to cooperation and competition, when necessary, with an ever-vigilant eye toward research safeguards. He added that as the number of U.S.-born, college-age students and graduates dwindles, the U.S. must refocus its commitment to serving as a magnet for diverse talent in STEM from around the world, including American women and underrepresented minorities, as well as foreign-born students.
“Such individuals, many of whom, like myself, were initially educated under a different educational system and funded by the resources of another country, bring with them a different way of thinking, learning, and problem-solving,” he said. “Those unique perspectives, when coupled with our open research system and our American values, lead to a dynamic and healthy R&D enterprise.”
For Abdallah, the best opportunity and most enduring strategy for improving our national position in science and technology is to start with the talent pipeline, and for universities to admit college-ready students.
“[We must] nurture and engage a larger number from untapped domestic populations and provide an academic environment for them to strive and succeed as students, faculty, and researchers,” he said. “That rich and diverse pool of candidates must be increased, prepared, and nurtured in the K-12 system. It is incumbent upon American universities to continue to strengthen their collaboration with the federal agencies, government, and industry, and to assume more responsibility outside of our traditional roles.”
Abdallah also reiterated the importance of certain and long-term federal investment in institutions of higher education, emphasizing the varied roles federal funds play in academia, including recruiting, educating, and retaining top talent, supporting research facilities, and creating new intellectual property that leads to new markets and enterprises.
“It is important to keep in mind that what is now a critical technology was once a basic science research idea, or likely fundamental research funded by the federal government at a research university,” he said. “The federal dollar is usually the first dollar in the chain, and is converted by universities into basic knowledge and talent, feeding businesses and leading to solutions, technologies, and products that generate returns back into the federal treasury and benefit society.”
To watch the full hearing, visit the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology website.