German and American leaders of academia and government came
together at the National Academy of Sciences on December 14 and 15
to address "New Horizons in Research and Higher Education: Trends,
Constraints, and Opportunities." Speakers at this symposium of the
German-American Academic Council (GAAC) found much in common,
including concerns about an oversupply of PhDs; public attitudes
toward science; budget pressures; declining support for long-term,
basic research; increasing specialization within disciplines; the
appropriate balance between university teaching and research; and
how to shift limited funds to the most promising areas.
The first speaker was Frank Press, who has served as both Science
Advisor to President Carter, and president of NAS. Press focused
on the recent Academy report (see FYIs #171, #172) on federal R&D
funding. He advocated a unified view of the U.S. federal science
budget to optimize limited resources, but contended that "any
proposal that tampers with" maintaining a strong S&T base in each
of the mission agencies "would be a stupid thing to do."
While Princeton University President Harold Shapiro noted that the
American university system owes a lot to the German model, the
German speakers found much to admire here. There was a consensus
that German universities need to compete for projects and students
to help raise quality. The Germans also praised the ability of
American researchers to form their own companies. Cornelia Yzer,
Parliamentary Secretary for the Education and Research Ministry,
commended the U.S. venture capital market and stock market in
promoting start-up companies.
Jurgen Mittelstrass of the University of Konstanz raised concerns
about the balance between teaching and research which, in Germany,
is weighted too heavily toward teaching. Gunter Stock of Schering
AG pointed to the chronic underfunding of German education and
academic infrastructure, and called for more and broader types of
collaboration among industry, universities, and the public sector.
Among the American speakers, R. Thomas Weimer, staff director for
the House Basic Research Subcommittee, pointed out that nearly 62
percent of the current Congress has served three years or less. He
said, "If I were addressing a professional society...I would make
the call for the need for continued education of these new Members
and staffs." While he did not regard new Members and the public as
anti-science, he said "they are not prioritizing it above other
Reimar Lust, president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation,
found in the Press report many "important points that we should
take home." He felt the best way to encourage German researchers
to start up their own companies was for them to spend time in the
U.S. While the older generation of scientists, and politicians,
had spent significant time in America, he encouraged the Council to
ensure that similar opportunities exist for the younger generation.
"We must continue to learn from each other," he concluded.