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Evaluating research university importance requires multi-faceted approach

November 09, 2017

Since no single measure of performance can completely capture the important role that research universities play as drivers of economic growth in the innovation economy, a different approach is required, according to new research from BioCrossroads and TEConomy Partners. Using Indiana as a case study, The Importance of Research Universities highlights the multitude of ways that research universities contribute to prosperity, including economic development, enhanced capabilities of human capital, knowledge expansion and innovation, and societal well-being and quality of life. In Indiana, the report’s authors find that the direct economic impacts of the state’s three main research universities’ (Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame) research expenditures are more than four times that of the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Similar to an analysis of Michigan’s University Research Corridor highlighted by the Digest last year, the TEConomy research is notable for its multi-faceted approach to analyzing the impacts of research universities. To assess the broader importance of research universities, the TEConomy analysis identifies two-dozen “functional impact areas,” including measures such as intellectual property, health and wellness, capital attraction, and informed public policy. A complete list of the functional impacts identified by the authors can be found in the graphic below. In addition to these areas, the authors also examine the social/private and monetary/non-monetary dimensions of university research impacts, key performance drivers, and the importance of life sciences research, among others. 

TEConomy’s analysis of Indiana’s research universities finds that the state “punches above its weight” across several key indicators of output, such as total enrollment, number of academic publications, and business R&D expenditures. To enhance the research benefits from Indiana’s research universities, the authors also make recommendations. Examples of recommendations proposed include:

  • Improving external federal research funding competitiveness;
  • Enhancing university connectivity to collaborative commercial research opportunities;
  • Better leveraging research universities and other institutional anchors for talent attraction and retention;
  • Improving performance in intellectual property and technology commercialization; and,
  • Exploring new collaborative opportunities for Indiana’s research universities and industry. 
higher ed