The Changing Role and Landscape of Higher Education Research
Higher education institutions conduct advanced research that delivers innovation, breakthrough technologies, cures for diseases, and so much more for societal benefit. But this research no longer can be viewed primarily as an academic pursuit. Higher education research has become big business, driven by necessity, and must be seen through that lens now, eyeing the future.
The economics for higher education institutions, particularly public colleges and universities, have changed. They no longer can rely on significant funding from state and local governments. Public-private partnerships, government cooperative research agreements, philanthropic foundations, and grants from organizations like the National Science Foundation can more than fill the void. The resulting joint research serves as the linchpin to success.
Higher education institutions need significant ideas and the best talent to pursue mega-scale grants and other opportunities orders of magnitude larger than what they typically receive today. Having the proper infrastructure in place can help them change the game.
Cheryl Martin, Global Director, Business Development, Higher Education & Research at NVIDIA, offers an interesting perspective. "Higher education institutions must evaluate their infrastructures against a different standard – the total cost of research. Those lacking the proper infrastructure pay an opportunity cost of failing to attract the greatest minds and win new business from potential partners with deep pockets."
What level of funding's at stake? Last year, a supermajor energy company lost tens of billions of dollars due to hurricane landfall forecasts' uncertainty. As a result, they played it conservatively and shut down and restarted operations over a broader area than necessary. With more advanced and precise modeling, they could have narrowed the scope of action and limited the associated costs. What would they be willing to pay for that benefit?
Here's another example. The forecast for the U.S. western states this year offers the potential for record-setting wildfires. Federal, state, and local governments, as well as insurers, desperately need more robust and accurate modeling tools to predict and track fire locations and paths so drones, firefighters, repellant drops, and other assets can be pre-positioned to minimize the damage – lives and billions are on the line. What are these tools worth to them?
Higher education institutions can and should contribute to developing these and other solutions, and they have the incentive to participate. To gain a competitive advantage, they must possess an infrastructure that supports the edge and fusion computing. The highly distributed, intelligent assets that comprise the edge mandate a scalable and expandable reference architecture that delivers advanced content data management, cybersecurity, and massive storage (not just for data but also for metadata, which can be ten times more voluminous). Fusion computing platforms integrate the Internet of Things and big data technologies empowering at-the-edge, high performance computing capabilities to process the information, real-time graphics, and artificial intelligence to provide the advanced data analytics and proactive evaluation necessary to deliver on the promise of the next-generation solutions sought by a higher education institution's business partners.
Jeffrey Hill, HPE's US SLED Sales Director, sums up the situation perfectly. "The role and landscape of higher education research have changed for the foreseeable future, bringing together academics and economics. Those institutions that understand and embrace the change, and build the right infrastructure to bring big ideas to reality, will win the day."