Research In Public Universities Face Consequences of Limited Funding; Forced To Behave Like Private Businesses?By Vinay Patel, UniversityHerald Reporter
Professor of environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, Marc Edwards helped unveil the water contamination situation in Flint, and he did so without any financial aid, using his own money.
Michigan town's water contamination crisis has been existing for a long time, however it took FOIA requests along with Edwards' testing to legitimize the crisis from the standpoint of the media - which finally displayed the controversy in national headlines.
Edwards has played crucial roles in bringing to light similar issues, like he did when he tested Washington D.C.'s water supply, however this has burned a hole in his pocket in the past, and he has not ceased to nag at the government agencies for this.
Edwards' case hints a bigger problem in higher education. The problem seem to prevail in the method researches are been funded via public universities as its restricting research opportunities that could prove to be life saver and improve public's health in the long run.
In the wake of public universities been deprived of state funding, and been compelled to operate like a business, universities have to switch over their priorities. With limited resources in this domain, researchers are left with no choice but to do fewer collaborations with communities, which results in less innovation, thus public lose trust in research, Edwards explained.
In terms of figures, 7 out of 10 adults claim that government funding in scientific research generally does not pay off immediately, however the share of the public who consider American scientific achievements better than any other in the world has dropped 11 points from 2009, a Pew Research survey confirmed.
The Flint Crisis: What Went Wrong?
The problem, apparently began when the city of Flint decided to switch to Flint River water a couple of years back. Last April, Edwards was contacted by a woman who claimed there was a problem with the family's tap water. Edwards decided to delve into the matter after testing the water.
In a Virginia Tech research that analysed lead levels in 300 homes in Flint, it was divulged that the water was alarmingly five times more corrosive as compared to other water sources in the area, this hinted that national, state and even local officials were not focusing on their duties.
About 8,657 children in Flint are been tested for exposure to lead. The city, in collaboration with state are still toiling with the EPA to make sure drinking water is safe, ThinkProgress reported.
Edwards claim the way the main model for how research is chosen and even funded in higher education - which Edwards refer to as "top-down model" - is apparently harming the public. Those at risk, such as the residents of Flint may end up losing their confidence in scientific researchers.
Why Universities' Business Approach Is Not Ideal For Scientific Innovation
While public universities try to survive with the limited funding, these institutions have eventually adopted a more business-like approach. This involve averaging a faculty's performance to gauge what they've given back to the university, and this approach does not quite foster innovation, according to some experts.
A faculty's performance is determined on the basis of these analytics. The measures consider things such as the professor's patents, the number of articles published by the professor and their overall influence on academic discourse.
Manuela Ekowo, a policy analyst with the education policy program at New America and Edwards believe that by relying on these analytics, the universities are actually forcing the professors to divert their focus on getting the best score and this will hurt innovation in the long run.
According to Ekowo, universities should focus on getting more funding so that they could work with private-sector partners rather than having private vendors do all the analytics tasks.