Thursday, January 06, 2011

Invest in the future of Texas

Rich Templeton and Francisco G. Cigarroa, Special Contributors | Austin American-Statesman
Jan. 5, 2011

Today in Austin, the Academy of Medicine, Engineering Science and Technology of Texas (TAMEST) will celebrate Texas innovations that have created revolutionary markets or improved quality of life on a global scale. If our state is to remain successful, Congress and the Texas Legislature must make significant investments in university research.

In 1958, Jack Kilby created the integrated circuit — perhaps the single most important invention of our lifetime — right here in Texas. It propelled space travel, enhanced national security, revolutionized computing and communications, created safer cars and energy-efficient appliances, and improved health care technology. Semiconductors enable the more than $1 trillion global electronics market, drive productivity in every sector of the economy and have been the No. 1 U.S. export, on average, over the past five years.

None of that would have happened without unprecedented federal investment in basic research in the1960s and '70s that attracted a generation of bright students.

Texas, the second-largest state for technology employment, added jobs in the sector in 2009 when the rest of the country was losing them. Texas ranks third in the nation for academic R&D investment and number of science, engineering and health PhDs in the work force. The University of Texas System was third behind the University of California and MIT for the number of patents filed in 2009.

However, Texas is competing with the rest of the world. Europe, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and China all seek technology leadership and are investing aggressively in research and industry incentives.

The U.S. can easily fall behind its global competitors that are heavily invested in their universities. Over the past 70 years, many of our science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduate students originated from other countries, and they chose to remain here to become outstanding professors and public and private research scientists. Of the 493 Nobel Prizes in science and medicine awarded since 1940, 94 were foreign-born researchers living in the U.S. and working for U.S. universities, medical centers and laboratories.

Today, 25 percent of the nearly 5 million university-educated scientists and engineers in the United States are foreign-born. But the pipeline will dry up as international universities excel at STEM education and research. Ten years ago, there were few international students in China. Now there are more than 250,000 — a clear indicator that the U.S. is no longer the only attractive option. Immigration policy must adjust to draw top talent to the U.S. And improved performance in STEM instruction at the public school level is essential to remain competitive.

More than ever, Texas universities must maintain a superb educational and research-friendly environment, including the recruitment of the best and brightest faculty from around the world and facilitating more partnerships and joint venture projects with industry partners.

Federal support for research will be critical to addressing our country's challenges in medicine, energy and national security. As the new Congress convenes in Washington, there will be extreme pressure to cut spending. Research is an investment in the economy that pays off with innovation, leadership and jobs. Proposals to freeze spending at 2008 levels would be disastrous for key research agencies for physical sciences and engineering — a 13.5 percent or $1.7 billion cut from 2010 levels. Most high-tech businesses have learned that those who invest in R&D in downturns win, a lesson we should apply nationally.

Indeed, despite far-reaching proposals to cut spending, the bipartisan President's Deficit Commission identifies R&D and education as essential areas for federal investment.

At the same time, university leaders and industry must work collaboratively to bring more federal grants to Texas. We should not be satisfied with third place in this regard.

And the Texas Legislature must keep funding important sources for innovation by reauthorizing the Emerging Technology Fund and sustaining the Texas Research Incentive Program for the seven emerging research institutions. And lawmakers must continue to support Texas' two current "tier one" public research universities: UT Austin and Texas A&M. Our relatively strong state economy presents a unique opportunity for Texas to attract talent and R&D dollars. We should seize it.

Without more investments, Texas' innovation future will be left in the past.

Templeton is chairman, president and CEO of Texas Instruments. Cigarroa is chancellor of the University of Texas System and 2010 president of the Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology of Texas.

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