The Critical Role of Research Universities in America’s Economic and Societal Future

One of the most notable points-of-pride in the United States is the nation’s portfolio of world-class academic institutions, with the U.S. dominating the global rankings of top universities. Indeed, although the U.S. is home to only 4.3% of the world’s population, 43% of the world’s top 100 universities are located in the U.S.  The USA’s signature research universities are a national asset of great historic and current significance.  Into the future their importance will come even more to the forefront in our increasingly knowledge-driven, innovation-based economy.

In terms of promoting full recognition of the multi-faceted mission and benefits of university presence in localities, regions, and states, understanding the full-range of functional impacts generated by universities is vitally important. TEConomy has enjoyed the privilege of working with universities, state and federal government agencies, and economic development organizations across the nation and internationally in examining the impacts of academic institutions and developing strategies to further advance these impacts. In combination with a review of the literature, this experience has enabled TEConomy to develop an illustrative model for discussing university functional impacts (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Functional Impacts of Research Universities


In a recent report for BioCrossroads Indiana, TEConomy produced an in-depth examination of the role and impacts of research universities, bringing the report to life with examples form Indiana’s world-class research universities: Purdue University; the University of Notre Dame, and Indiana University.  The full report can be accessed here:

In the report, TEConomy discusses the services universities provide to society. In particular, the report examines the role of research universities and their contribution to the socioeconomic, R&D-powered ecosystem in the U.S. Using Indiana’s research universities as the basis of in-depth discussion, this report seeks to:

  • Explain university research in the context of the full-range of functions served by universities in modern society, emphasizing that research is one component, albeit a critically important one, in the multi-faceted mission of our leading higher education institutions;
  • Profile the structure of modern university-based research, academic disciplines, and the expanding importance of transdisciplinary inquiry;
  • Elucidate the functional benefits of the university and of university research in terms of both private and social returns – both monetary and non-monetary;
  • Discuss the changing environment for university research funding and structural changes taking place in academe resulting from technological, political, and societal trends;
  • Spur a mutual understanding and appreciation of the importance of Indiana’s universities and university-based research in all its forms among policy makers, university officials and faculty, economic developers, students, research funders, commercial enterprise, and other key economic and societal stakeholders.

TEConomy finds that the future of the United States is very much tied to the performance of a complex research ecosystem – an ecosystem in which research universities serve a series of unique and absolutely crucial functions. In considering the future, it is also found that elements of the research ecosystem are threatened by external forces and trends that risk eroding the foundations of American research leadership – and that research universities must be provided with strategic support and assistance to ensure they continue to provide a robust competitive advantage for democratic, social, and economic progress.

The Challenges of Ensuring a Talent Pipeline

To ensure vibrant, economic growth, we fully recognize that innovative industry clusters require access to human capital with appropriate education and training. This fact, and challenges associated with it, has once again been highlighted with viable solutions recommended in a recent report prepared by TEConomy Partners, LLC for AgriNovus Indiana.

The report finds that for Indiana to maintain its position as a 21st century agbioscience leader, Indiana must have a 21st Century agbioscience workforce equipped to understand, apply, and develop leading technologies. This will require Indiana to go beyond traditional paradigms of education by integrating agbioscience skills development across the full talent pipeline composed of K–12, colleges and universities, and continued professional development.

TEConomy has recommended that to maintain its leadership within the agbiosciences, Indiana must work concurrently on implementing four critical strategies:

  1. Create a greater pipeline of students interested in agbioscience careers.
  2. Develop industry-relevant skill sets for core occupation talent.
  3. Increase agbioscience career engagement for allied occupation fields.
  4. Catalyze continued career advancement.

These four strategies are best understood as interrelated efforts that reinforce each other and create a progression as depicted in the figure below. No one single action or strategy will fully address Indiana’s agbioscience talent demands and gaps. Instead, a multidimensional approach is needed that reflects the variety of opportunities and needs that Indiana’s agbioscience industry faces.

Indiana’s Agbioscience Talent Pipeline


Source: TEConomy Partners, LLC

The agbioscience industry’s ability to develop, cultivate, and acquire specialized human talent with specific and unique skill sets throughout the entire talent pipeline is paramount to its ability to continue to grow and prosper in the State of Indiana.

To learn more, click here to download the full report.

TEConomy Partners on an International Stage

While TEConomy is U.S. based, we have a global consulting practice that sees our team engaging with clients worldwide.  The importance of science and technology to modern economic development, recognition of industry cluster-based economic development to optimize national economic performance, and the need to identify ways to compete in the global economy are just some of the reasons clients seek our expertise.

Our international experience is diverse, including projects in both developing and developed nations. We have found that our methods of work translate well into a broad-range of economic and innovation environments.

Some examples that serve to show the diversity of our international engagements and the experiences of our principals include:

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