Column: Florida universities are building momentum on research

If Florida is going to reach its potential, our public universities must be a pipeline — not only for talent — but for the discoveries and inventions that will attract jobs to Florida, fuel the economy and maximize our positive impact on the state, country and world.
A small, CrazyFlie 2.0 drone is one among 10 others at the University of South Florida Laboratory for Autonomy, Control, Information and Systems. at the University of South Florida campus in Tampa on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. The drones are being used for research by PhD student Jesse Jaramillo and masters student Tyler Wieczorek for swarming drone technology and surveillance. Experiments like these have sparked the interest of U.S. Special Operations Command, the military headquarters based at MacDill Air Force Base. {Bronte Wittpenn   |   Times]
A small, CrazyFlie 2.0 drone is one among 10 others at the University of South Florida Laboratory for Autonomy, Control, Information and Systems. at the University of South Florida campus in Tampa on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. The drones are being used for research by PhD student Jesse Jaramillo and masters student Tyler Wieczorek for swarming drone technology and surveillance. Experiments like these have sparked the interest of U.S. Special Operations Command, the military headquarters based at MacDill Air Force Base. {Bronte Wittpenn | Times]
Published November 30
Updated November 30

The State University System of Florida has earned many accolades in recent years for its extraordinarily high quality and low cost. But I want to share about another important area in which Florida’s public universities are forging ahead: research.

Great university systems have outstanding research prowess, and Florida is working hard to elevate its national research profile to the very top echelon. As chair of the Board of Governors Academic and Research Excellence Committee, I find it exciting for us to be on the upward trajectory, not just due to the huge return on investment (a $6.50 return for every state dollar spent), but due to research’s intrinsic human value — longer lifespans, smart phones that can connect us with friends and family anywhere in the world, etc. This is an area with big opportunity for growth in Florida, and momentum is on our side. With support from our elected leaders as well as our partners in the private sector, Florida’s public universities recently rose from No. 5 to No. 4 in national research rankings and increased its research awards by 8 percent even as funding fell 5 percent nationwide. Locally, the University of South Florida just announced that it rose four spots to a top 25 public university for research spending, according to the National Science Foundation.

In real terms, Florida’s rise in the research arena is an economic boon for the state, with Florida’s universities turning $2.2 billion in research activity into a $6.6 billion economic impact. In fact, the University of Florida recently announced that it smashed its previous record for research funding by a whopping 16 percent, pulling in $837.6 million during the 2018 fiscal year. Here are the strategies that are helping us to raise the bar.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature are investing generously in our universities through initiatives that encourage increased attention to research, including preeminence, performance funding and World Class Scholars. These investments have positioned our universities to hire hundreds of top-tier researchers and professors, many of whom bring their research grants with them from other states.

The board recently established a new framework to further elevate nationally recognized research and academic programs. The initiative, known as Programs of Excellence, promotes research and academic programs that solve problems for the state, such as improving the health of Floridians or addressing environmental needs.

In recent years, State University System institutions have collaborated with each other to attain federal research grants rather than acting as individual islands. Examples include a shared IRB application form as well as federal workshops, which are held annually and facilitate meetings with top funders such as the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The Board of Governors recently approved a 19-metric dashboard to prioritize and track our progress. The State University System of Florida is a pioneer of this type of measuring.

The State University System is committed to research that addresses workforce needs, frequently partnering with the private sector in areas such as big data, health, cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing and marine/coastal science.

Similarly, Florida emphasizes research that translates into marketable products. As a result, the National Academy of Inventors recently recognized five of Florida’s public universities as being in the Top 100 for producing utility patents — the most of any state.

For the second year in a row, U.S. News & World Report recently named Florida the top state in the country for higher education. We’re proud of our ranking. But we know that if Florida is going to fulfill its full potential, our public universities must be a pipeline — not only for talent — but for the discoveries and inventions that will attract jobs to Florida, fuel the economy and maximize our positive impact on the state, country and world.

Alan Levine is chair of the Academic and Research Excellence Committee for the Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System.

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