UCOP > A Brief History of the University of California > The University in a Knowledge Society >

A New President and an Economic Crisis

The Debate over Admissions


Research and Economic Growth

New Directions for Outreach

Tidal Wave II and New Approaches to Admission

Achievement versus Aptitude


The University Past and Present

University of California Campuses

Presidents of the University of California

Chief Campus Officers and Chancellors of the University of California


Chapter 35: Research and Economic Growth

In early 1996 it was apparent that the California economy was pulling out of its tailspin and beginning a steady climb in job creation and productivity. A major reason for the state's returning prosperity was its high-technology industries, among them computers, software, and information technology, which were fed by basic research conducted in the state's research universities.

President Richard C. Atkinson (1995-2003) viewed the California comeback as symptomatic of a shift in the economy toward reliance on knowledge as an engine of economic growth. He had begun his academic career in the late 1950s as a faculty member at Stanford University, where his teaching and research focused on the nature of human memory and cognition. The seminal importance of his scientific contributions was recognized by his election to the National Academy of Sciences at an early age.

One of the colleagues he worked with and admired at Stanford was its renowned dean of engineering, Frederick Terman. Terman had made economic history by spurring the industry-university cross-fertilization that created Silicon Valley. As a young faculty member, Atkinson saw firsthand the tremendous potential of the kind of bridge-building with industry that Terman had advocated with such tangible success.

As Chancellor of UC San Diego from 1980 to 1995, Atkinson pursued a strategy shaped by his Stanford experience and his years as Director of the National Science Foundation in the late 1970s. He encouraged technology transfer and active involvement with industry, especially with the small high-technology firms that were emerging in San Diego. He concentrated on faculty quality, on establishing a school of engineering, and on expanding the campus's ability to do cutting-edge research.

By the end of the 1980s, UC San Diego had become a dynamic factor in the region's economy, particularly in its recovery from a devastating recession caused by the demise of San Diego's defense-related industries. The role of UC San Diego was so clearly crucial that the area's revitalization in the early 1990s was described as "the Atkinson miracle."

President Atkinson believed that the University could and must play a similar role for California. The Industry-University Cooperative Research Program, established early in 1996, focuses on stimulating innovation in the most promising areas for future economic growth—among them biotechnology, digital media, and microelectronics—through joint projects involving industry and UC researchers.

To produce the technically skilled workforce California's innovative economy demands, Atkinson committed UC to expanding enrollments in engineering and computer science by 50 percent by 2005. By 2002, the University had already exceeded this goal.

Governor Gray Davis was an enthusiastic advocate of the idea that investing in scientific innovation, and in the educated people who make it happen, is crucial to California's current and future prosperity. In 2000, he proposed the establishment of four California Institutes for Science and Innovation on UC campuses. The Institutes are charged with conducting sophisticated multidisciplinary research in areas critical to the state's economy, including nanoscience, telecommunications, information technology, and biomedicine, with California's high-technology businesses contributing nearly three dollars for every one invested by the state. A second, equally important mission is educating future scientific and entrepreneurial leaders by giving graduate students the opportunity to work on large and challenging problems with the state's best minds. The ultimate goal of the California Institutes is to lay the foundation for the economy of the future.

The Institutes embodied aspirations that were typically Californian in their optimism and ambitious scope. Yet efforts to expand research ties with the private sector were not universally welcomed, despite their roots in the University's land-grant tradition. Some within and outside the University pointed to the risk of skewing faculty research agendas or compromising the unfettered search for knowledge. In recent years University officials have sought to reshape UC policies to take these concerns into account and to accommodate new forms of industry-university relationships.

The growing demands on UC as a generator of knowledge are symptomatic of the distance between the remote pioneer outpost that California was in the nineteenth century and the technologically driven society it has become in the twenty-first. One-fifth of the nation's research and development is carried out in California's universities, nonprofit research institutions, and businesses, even though the state has only 12 percent of the nation's population. Its entrepreneurial energies and climate of opportunity have made this state the globe's fifth-largest economy, dependent on a constant supply of scientific and technological innovation. As the source of basic research and educated people, the University has become more central to society than ever before.





Copyright © 2005
The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Last updated 09/29/05.