Louisiana colleges and universities could beef up their research efforts and strengthen the state’s economy by being more efficient, according to a report out from the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.
“Louisiana is decades behind other states on the intellectual infrastructure for innovation because some leaders, by and large, did not prioritize the economic development mission of the university or commercialization of research in general,” the PAR report concludes.
The report lays out dozens of recommendations to help streamline the pool of resources and research endeavors. Those recommendations range from the state appointing an innovation leader to revamping the Board of Regents Support Fund, which funds research.
“We are thinly spreading this money around, and we think a lot could be done to improve the situation,” PAR executive director Robert Travis Scott said during a meeting of the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday.
The report comes as Louisiana is leaning on research-intense industry to grow the economy.
State funding for higher education faces a gap of nearly half a billion dollars heading into negotiations over the state budget that begins July 1. But the report notes that a better use of the resources at hand could spur further investment into research and development.
The report calls on Louisiana’s four higher education systems and their boards to push economic development as a priority on campuses, while keeping focus on niche areas where schools can excel.
“Opportunity is knocking for Louisiana,” the report concludes. “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.”
Scott said PAR’s work on the report included trips across the state and to Athens, Georgia, to review the Georgia Research Alliance operations.
“The outputs from research and development at Louisiana universities has been disappointingly low — even when adjusted for the amount of research dollars that have been invested,” he said.
Scott said he believes the timing is appropriate for making changes to beef up research and development in the state because higher education leaders back the effort.
Those who attended the report’s unveiling Monday agreed.
“I think it’s important to highlight one of the roles higher education can play in the state,” LSU College of Engineering Dean Richard Koubek said. “This study provides a pathway forward. I’m optimistic.”
David Winwood, Pennington Biomedical Research Center’s chief business development officer, noted that several of the early steps have been set into motion.
“I think we’re making some great strides,” he said.
He added that he thinks it will be key for the state to view the potential financial windfall as a side effect of research, and not the goal.