Colleges say federal cuts could cause brain drain

Mar 17, 2013 by Bridget Murphy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering Nikolai Begg poses in an MIT workshop in Cambridge, Mass., Friday, March 15, 2013. Begg is concerned about whether government funding losses could force undergraduates who are contemplating higher degrees to enter the workforce for financial reasons, meaning a loss of American ingenuity in the end. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, faculty fret about the future of the school's Plasma Science and Fusion Center. Thirty miles (fifty kilometers) away, administrators at the state university campus in Lowell worry that research aimed at designing better body armor for soldiers could suffer.

The concerns have emerged because of automatic federal budget cuts that could reduce government funding for research done at , spending that totaled about $33.3 billion in 2010, Department of Education statistics show. And the possible cuts raise another concern at those schools and others across the country: .

President and lawmakers failed to agree on a plan to reduce the nation's deficit that would have avoided the automatic spending cuts, the so-called sequester, which began to roll out this month. Included in the cuts are 5 percent of the money for programs that fund education research, a Department of Education spokesman said Friday. But because negotiations over how to balance the budget are ongoing, the timing and size of many cuts to be made by government agencies remain unclear.

"One of the questions we don't know is if agencies will elect to cut funding by not making new grants or cutting back on old grants," said Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education.

In the meantime, professors are left wondering how many will become discouraged by domestic funding challenges and either leave for careers abroad or change fields.

At MIT, Nikolai Begg said he's lucky the research he's working on now has corporate sponsorship.

"It's kind of scary to be hearing that a lot of that support is going away," he said of . "How do we keep America technologically relevant has been a question on everybody's mind. And the sequester only makes that harder."

The 25-year-old recently won a $30,000 Lemelson-MIT award for inventions that aim to make surgical procedures less invasive. But Begg is concerned about whether government funding losses could force undergraduates who are contemplating higher degrees to enter the workforce for financial reasons, meaning a loss of American ingenuity in the end.

"I wonder if this whole issue is going to prevent people from going into more advanced research where they can really innovate ... We don't really know what it's going to do yet. There's not enough information out. You know the storm is coming."

Some university officials say a loss of federal funding from the cuts aggravates a current trend: Scientists already have less time to spend in their labs because they have to spend more time seeking grants.

"What the sequester has done is make more dramatic this trend," said Scott Zeger, Johns Hopkins University's vice provost for research. "... It means that people aren't spending quiet time thinking about how nature works."

Breast cancer researcher Dr. Debu Tripathy, a professor at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, compared a scientist who doesn't spend enough time in a lab because of grant writing to a politician who is too busy campaigning for re-election to serve constituents.

He worries the country's commitment to a war on cancer, going back to the signing of the National Cancer Act in 1971, could falter. Tripathy said a lot of good science isn't getting funded and bright minds aren't coming into the field.

"If we don't engage the brightest minds to continue the trajectory we're on, then that will affect a whole generation," the doctor said.

At Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, dean Dr. Larry Shapiro said the automatic cuts are causing anxiety among young researchers who are wondering what career options they'll have if the current economic climate becomes "the new normal."

"This is all that's being discussed in the hallways and over coffee," he said.

He said two genetics researchers recently decided to leave the university and move their labs to the United Kingdom amid the climate of funding losses.

"Scientists are passionate about their work, and they'll go where they have the best opportunity to accomplish it," Shapiro said.

Washington University School of Medicine could be looking at $30 million to $40 million in budget cuts because of cutbacks at the National Institutes of Health, and possibly having to cut 300 scientific personnel jobs, according to Shapiro. The school is part of a consortium working on new therapies for Alzheimer's disease, and he said that work would be slowed considerably because the NIH is a big funding source.

At the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, school officials are projecting that they could lose about $8 million in research money, which could affect projects including biofuels research.

But UMass-Amherst chemistry professor Paul Lahti, who is leading research on better ways to harvest solar energy, said it's the job of senior faculty members to keep students encouraged and excited about the future of discovery despite negative economic factors.

"You carry on and do the best work you can," Lahti tells them.

"The science is going to get done," the professor said. "The younger people in the end are the ones that are our most important project."

Explore further: Academic journals should adopt nonprofit publishing model, expert says

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kochevnik
3.2 / 5 (9) Mar 17, 2013
"...better body armor for soldiers could suffer"
Oh poor military-industrial complex!
ryggesogn2
3.8 / 5 (12) Mar 17, 2013
Why are costs of university rising exponentially?
Could it be the govt student loan subsidy?
When a third party pays, the consumer is not as concerned about costs. This is why medical costs are so high.
kochevnik
3.7 / 5 (9) Mar 17, 2013
If universities were so interested in cutting costs they would put all their courses online and have TAs do all the work, which is what TAs already do. Education should be free, or comparable to what a TA receives which is about $4.05 weekly.
Code_Warrior
4.7 / 5 (11) Mar 17, 2013
Why has it become fashionable for those in power to make their point by suggesting the dumbest approach to spending cuts? It seems to me that they should be embarrassed to suggest really stupid ideas and they should be called out for it. Why not suggest intelligent cuts to nonessential research such as the $1.2M spent to study the cognitive effects of 60-77 year olds playing World of Warcraft for 2 weeks? I'm sure if they look hard enough they can find more than enough nonessential research to hit the 5% goal.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.8 / 5 (8) Mar 17, 2013
Hold on a minute. Is the US paying foreign students and researchers while citizens are losing out?
http://www.iie.or...Students

"Nikolai [Begg] ...is a dual citizen of the United States and France and is fluent in French."

Dr. Debu Tripathy - citizenship undetermined
http://m.jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/91/7/587/F2.expansion.html

-Should foreign countries be contributing more?
VendicarE
2.5 / 5 (8) Mar 17, 2013
It is due to the failure of Libertarian/Randite Economics of course.

"Why are costs of university rising exponentially?" - RyggTard

College tuition soars as states reduce funding

Growing enrollments and declining state budgets have been putting the squeeze on colleges and universities for the past 25 years, but the problem got a lot worse last year, says a new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

http://www.desere...l?pg=all
VendicarE
2.8 / 5 (9) Mar 17, 2013
For the same reason that Libertarians and Randites are fond of claiming that laws create crime.

"Why has it become fashionable for those in power to make their point by suggesting the dumbest approach to spending cuts?" - Code Warrior

Their ideology is fundamentally at odds with reality.

VendicarE
2.8 / 5 (9) Mar 17, 2013
Then why are medical costs lower, and care quality generally higher in virtually all first world nations compared to the U.S. which has a health program that is principally paid for by health care insurance?

"When a third party pays, the consumer is not as concerned about costs. This is why medical costs are so high." - RyggTard

America is such a wonderful example of Libertarian/Randite social and economic failure.
VendicarE
2.7 / 5 (7) Mar 17, 2013
Foreign exchange students are subsidizing the U.S. eduction system enough.

"Should foreign countries be contributing more?" - Otto

Why should foreign engineers pay for the calligraphy, and business mismanagement courses taken by Americans?
VendicarE
2.8 / 5 (9) Mar 17, 2013
The simple fact of the matter is that Americans are paying less taxes as a percentage of their income then ever, and they simply don't pay enough to maintain their culture, or their nation.

So their culture and nation is collapsing.

Imagine what if would be like if the TeaPublicans like RyggTard get their way and cut government spending immediately by 1 trillion dollars.

40 million Americans would immediately become unemployed.

Good luck with that...
Sanescience
2.6 / 5 (10) Mar 17, 2013
It is a fairly common pattern of human behavior that when people do not pay the true costs of something, they do not understand the unsustainability of both it's long term operations or the nature of forces that affect the artificial or true costs of that thing or service.

Having consumers as direct payers to the services and things they purchase may at times be a more difficult way to structure government, but it pays off much more in the long run with a population that is savvy and in touch with their economy.
VendicarE
3.3 / 5 (7) Mar 17, 2013
Insanity is right. It is best that if American's develop heart disease or cancer that they lose their houses and life savings in the process of treating the disorders.

That way they can die in the gutter where they belong and not burden Capitalists.

"Having consumers as direct payers to the services and things they purchase may at times be a more difficult way to structure government" - Insanity
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.2 / 5 (5) Mar 17, 2013
Foreign exchange students are subsidizing the U.S. eduction system enough.
No, 30% of educational expenses of foreign students is being paid by the US. I am sure the same goes for Chinese students in Canadian trapping and skinning schools.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2013
Having consumers as direct payers to the services and things they purchase may at times be a more difficult way to structure government, but it pays off much more in the long run with a population that is savvy and in touch with their economy.

Hard to wrap my mind around the enormity of the change that would entail, but here are some easy extrapolations:

No social services, means being poor is a pit which neither you nor your progeny can ever climb out of. Exceptional but poor children never get the opportunity to be valuable to society.

Government branches and agencies spending significant resources on advertising and marketing, promoting themselves vs. providing value (and you thought they were inefficient now!)

Progress in medical research ceases (except for popular topics like erectile dysfunction).

OTOH, bizarre new medical problems occur as no one effectively controls what pollutes our land or goes into our food.
ryggesogn2
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 18, 2013
Exceptional but poor children never get the opportunity to be valuable to society.

Since when?
Ever hear of Herman Cain or John Rockefeller or Henry Ford?
Sanescience
5 / 5 (4) Mar 18, 2013
@VendicarE: Your assumptions of desired outcome or black and white view of political ideology combined with a pathological need for lashing anyone with the gall to think any other statement not aligned with your views is to be vilified only polarizes views. There will be no progress or communication to promote your positions and the causes you may support.

That said. No, it would not be a proper goal to increase death and suffering of current levels. Nor is it good for the population to continue a health system that will significantly harm the economy with an inefficient industry who's customers are not the patients but the 3rd party pay master near monopolies deciding the prices and treatment restrictions.
Sanescience
5 / 5 (3) Mar 19, 2013
consumers as direct payers to the services and things they purchase


Hard to wrap my mind around the enormity of the change that would entail, but here are some easy extrapolations:

@alfie_null:

I think you misunderstand. A consumer of healthcare that is a direct payer is the party that must be told the *actual final cost* of services before making a decision of where to go. Money from insurance and social services are endorsed directly through the patient.