Chancellor Michael Drake sat on a panel summoned by the House Committee on Financial Services in Washington D.C., on March 23 to discuss the role of public investment in promoting economic growth.
As the only representative of higher education on the panel, sharing the stage with financial and economic researchers and experts, Drake strongly supported the public sector’s role in higher education, placing a strong emphasis on basic research.
‘True basic research is something the private sector tends not to invest in very heavily. I am a supporter of basic research based on pure review merit, so we [are able to] look at the best ideas and move those forward.’
Drake refers here to a type of research called basic research, in which the goals are not so specific that practical and profitable outcomes are immediately apparent. Rather, it focuses on the advancement of knowledge and theory. Drake cited the Silicon Valley tech boom, global positioning systems and decreases in American cancer deaths as primary examples.
‘The federal investment in basic research has had an excellent return for American taxpayers; it has been estimated at between 28 to 40 percent per year,’ Drake said.
Congressman and Chairman Barney Frank explained at the beginning of the hearing that the House Committee on Financial Services oversees housing legislation and has jurisdiction over the Humphrey Hawkins Act, which guarantees employment for all citizens willing and able. The committee also deals with questions of economic policy in America.
‘One problem [that] we are confronting in the United States is how you go forward in economic growth in a way that does not provide more inequalities,’ Barney said. ‘One aspect that I believe is being overlooked is the contribution that should be made by the public sector. When you talk about diminishing inequality … I believe we need more reliance on the private sector.’
Drake commented that the federal government has a ‘mixed record’ in funding basic research. He noted that while Congress has recently doubled funding for the NIH, funding has declined in real terms by 12 percent and that physical sciences and engineering research have been ‘nearly flat-funded for over three decades.’
After Drake’s prepared comment, the floor was opened for questions to the panel. Chairman Frank asked the chancellor whether he believed that the California Universities were receiving enough funding from the public or private sector.
‘We work quite hard to keep costs as low as possible while maintaining the excellence required to be leaders nationally,’ Drake said. ‘State support is how we get it. From when I was a student at UC San Francisco, the state support has dropped to about half of what it was and I think that is troubling.’
Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) brought up the issue of a national health care plan, of which Drake and the rest of the panel were very supportive.
‘I am chair of a group called the Association of Academic Health Centers where we look at this very carefully,’ Drake said. ‘It would be incredibly helpful for the efficiency of the health care and its citizens.’
The Committee for Financial Services will continue to hear testimonies regarding issues of public investment and economic growth.