US: Research universities at risk, warns chancellor

US research universities are under threat from the recession and social changes, Linda Katehi, Chancellor of the University of California, Davis, told scientists at a recent American Association for the Advancement of Science policy forum.

Katehi said the two factors were combining to undermine universities. State support for universities was shrinking; in California, for example, state funding for the University of California was half what it was 25 years ago in real terms.

The result was big increases in tuition fees and these could go higher still, making university education unaffordable to many people.

Katehi said state governments needed to remember the welfare of the US lay in the ability to educate its workforce and prepare citizens for a life that was meaningful and productive. She said social changes had undermined the notion of the common good and also support for public universities such as the University of California.

Support for public research universities had fallen to its lowest levels in 25 years and more than half said budget cuts had compromised their ability to recruit students, retain faculty, and do important research.

She said universities must tighten their belts during the recession, but it was hard for universities to respond quickly to the cuts they had suffered. Many universities were looking to the federal government for support. There were also calls for federal support for postgraduate students.

Universities also needed to build more public support, Katehi said: "It is imperative we continue this national discussion, and try to find a way to preserve this wonderful resource we have developed in our country over many, many years and with the support of many generations who felt that higher education is really the means to a better life."

Katehi is on the board of directors of the AAAS.