On Friday, July 13th, the Woodrow Wilson Center held an event titled “Universities, High Skilled Immigration, and Regulatory Reform: Implication for America’s Economic Future.” The focus of the discussion was the Start-Up Act 2.0 (S. 3217), legislation that would create a STEM visa program so that U.S.-educated foreign students who graduate with a master’s or a doctorate in science, technology, engineering or mathematics can receive a green card, and an Entrepreneur’s Visa for legal immigrants so that they can remain in the United States.

In particular, the panel was put together to help stimulate discussion about the provisions of the act that are meant to facilitate the “commercialization of university research, the regulating of start-up companies, and the broadening of opportunities for temporary immigrants with post-graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to eventually qualify for permanent residency visas.”

The panel was made up of four speakers, three of whom gave opening statements. Kent Hughes (Director, Program on America and the Global Economy) facilitated the discussion and served as moderator. Jim Woodell (Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities), Karthick Ramakrishnan (University of California-Riverside) and Joseph Kennedy (US Dept. of Commerce) all participated in the panel discussion.

The discussion opened with a statement from Jim Woodell, in which he espoused the importance of technology transfer legislation, and emphasized how carefully this legislation must be crafted so that it has only the intended effects, and no other unintentional side effects.
Woodell went on to speak about Section 8 of the Start-Up Act, saying that although it is important to support the commercialization of research that comes out of our Universities, the way that the Start-Up Act approaches it circumvents the Technology Transfer Offices at these Universities. The “free agent” clause of the Act allows for individuals to seek commercialization outside of their University, and could in turn discourage Universities from supporting the growth of research and innovation.
As the discussion continued, Karthick Ramakrishnan made a statement in which he voiced his support of the Act because it includes a provision to incentivize those students who are allowed to immigrate to the United States on a visa for a Masters or PhD stay and work in the US after they have completed their education. Ramakrishnan noted that without this provision, there could be a reverse “brain-drain” effect in which we import students to the United States to study, but then lose them again to jobs outside of our borders.

Finally, Joseph Kennedy made remarks in which he made clear his view that the issue of immigration in reference to education is hampered by far too many regulations. However, he did praise Section 9 of the Act, which requires any agency to go through an extensive cost-benefit analysis before imposing any new regulations or rules. Additionally, they must fully analyze all alternatives to the policy they are proposing, and consider the possibility of failure and what that would entail.
You can find a video recording of the briefing here.


On Wednesday, June 27th the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Science Education convened a hearing to survey the many challenges that U.S. research universities face. The hearing was held in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act of 1862, which allowed for the creation of land-grant colleges. Under the Morrill Act, each eligible state in the Union received 30,000 acres of land that could be used to build a university on or could be sold to pay for the construction of universities.

The hearing opened with a statement from Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL), in which he made note of the importance of innovation to the United States economy, and that “particularly in today’s tough economic times, research universities play a vital role in America’s ability to maintain its competitiveness.”

Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) also gave a statement in which he espoused the essential nature of research universities to the United States’ R&D infrastructure, and thus to the economic success of our nation. He also cited a strong link between the success of research universities and the creation of jobs. He concluded his opening statement with a focus on the importance of research universities to our future workforce, “In addition to contributing immeasurably to our economic prosperity and wellbeing, research universities also train the next generation of scientists, engineering and innovators.”

The hearing comes on the heels of the release two weeks ago of a National Research Council (NRC) report on the status quo and viability of research universities in the US. This report, which was requested in 2009, presented three major goals that should be sought after in order to maximize the effectiveness of US research universities. The three goals are: “revitalize the partnership among universities, federal and state governments, philanthropists, and the business community; strengthen the institutions by streamlining and improving the productivity of the research operations within universities; and build talent to ensure that America’s pipeline of future students, scholars, and workers in science, engineering, and other research areas continues to be the best in the world.”

The final part of the hearing consisted of five witnesses who were questioned by the committee. The witness panel was made up of Mr. Charles Holliday (National Academies), Dr. John M. Mason (Auburn University), Dr. Jeffrey Seemann (Texas A&M University), Dr. Leslie P. Tolbert (University of Arizona), and Dr. James Siedow (Duke University).

Charles Holliday testified on the importance of research universities in helping the United States “position itself in a competitive world transformed by technology.” He also emphasized the need for a strong science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce in the United States, and how research universities play a role in encouraging the development of such a workforce.

Following Holliday’s testimony, Dr. John Mason brought up the issue of regulatory challenges that research universities face, and said that “the regulatory burdens placed on all recipients because of what appears to be the improper actions of a few.”

Dr. Leslie Tolbert contributed with an agreeing statement, echoing Mason’s testimony by saying that requiring research universities to comply with an increasing load of regulations wastes a significant amount of time and money.

During the questioning portion of the hearing, Congressman Lipinski focused on a recent decrease in funding for research universities and how regulations restrict the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the commercial market. Lipinski concluded by clearly stating that although our country is in a difficult financial situation, “we cannot afford to jeopardize our nation’s future prosperity by not providing sustained and predictable support for scientific research and affordable education.”


Prabhakar Named New DARPA Director

On July 10, 2012, in People, by Peter Harsha

It appears that Arati Prabhakar has been named the new DARPA Director, taking over for Regina Dugan who left the agency to work with Google.

From the memo to DARPA staff:

Dr. Prabhakar has spent her career advancing technology in support of both national security and the private sector, from early research and development through production. Dr. Prabhakar served from 1986 to 1993 at DARPA, first as program manager and then as founding director of the Microelectronics Technology Office. In 1993, President Clinton appointed Dr. Prabhakar as the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where she led the 3,000-person organization in its work with companies across multiple industries. Dr. Prabhakar’s Department of Defense and leadership experience, when coupled with her experience with technical communities in Silicon Valley and beyond, make her the ideal candidate to continue DARPA’s impressive track record of success.

Prabhakar will start as Director on July 30th.

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