- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

HAMPDEN-SYDNEY, Va. Virginia has failed to realize its potential to compete with the top states in academic research, according to a report presented yesterday to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).
The state ranked 16th among the 50 states and the District in research and development spending by colleges and universities in 2000 but had no institutions among the top 50 schools, the report by the SCHEV staff says. Virginia colleges spent $577 million, 2 percent of the national total.
Virginia's national ranking plummets when adjustments are made for population and economic productivity. Virginia is 37th in research spending per capita and 39th in research expenditures as a percentage of gross state product.
"While a few Virginia institutions are well-known for their research abilities, collectively Virginia higher education is not renowned for its accomplishments in this area," the report says.
State higher education policies have emphasized instruction instead of research, according to the report. Virginia colleges lack adequate space for existing research projects and lag behind their competition in attracting top-notch researchers.
"If Virginia seeks to advance its research agenda, it will need to develop strategies that promote a more conducive environment for research and strategically invest its resources monetary, human and physical into strengthening the quality, effectiveness and productivity of our academic research programs," the report says.
The report makes no specific recommendations.
"We deliberately have made this report a basis for discussion," said Phyllis Palmiero, executive director of SCHEV. "We don't want to lead anyone down a particular track."
The report will help guide SCHEV in developing its 2003 strategic plan for higher education. It also will be fodder for discussion at Gov. Mark R. Warner's higher education summit in October.
Mr. Warner has said he wants Virginia to have two universities among the nation's top 40 academic research institutions by 2010. Virginia Tech ranked 51st and the University of Virginia was 58th in 2000, according to the National Science Foundation.
Virginia had no other university among the top 100.
"We've heard from the governor that this is one of his focal points," Miss Palmiero said in an interview. "We've heard from legislative leaders how we might have missed some opportunities. It's time to move these conversations to a plan and take action."
Competition for federal funds and private grants for academic research is fierce, with the top 40 universities accounting for more than half of the total expenditures nationally, the report says. To reach its stated goal of breaking into the top 30, Virginia Tech would have to increase its research spending by more than 50 percent.
With the top colleges competing for limited resources, a coordinated approach is crucial, Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said.
"Without stepping on toes, the governor would like to find ways for universities not to all duplicate each other's efforts in specific research areas," she said.
Miss Palmiero said the public generally does not recognize how academic research has improved the quality of life. She cited contact lenses as one product of academic research.
"There is a perception that faculty should be in the classroom teaching, and there's not a very good understanding of the importance of research on people's everyday lives," she said.

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