Much of the higher education discussion this session involved HB 51, which would give more state dollars to fund university research. As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been any notable opposition except from Sen. Dan Patrick, who remarked during floor debate that research might actually harm student learning and for the legislature to keep this in mind during future debate of the issue.

Still, no legislator has asked the question: What benefit does university research (largely taxpayer funded) provide society? The answer: very little if any. Sure, there is good research, but the majority of it isn’t being produced at our state’s public universities.

Only 13% of all research occurs at universities – 87% is privately funded. It seems the government doesn’t need to fund research at all. The free market has proven that it supports private investment in worthwhile research, whereas the taxpayer funded research at our state’s universities yields poor results and shifts professor focus away from teaching.

Recent research by TPPF Senior Research Fellow Rick O’Donnell expands on the issue of university research, and the facts he lays out make a good argument against any more taxpayer investment in it.

Texas universities have invested an estimated $9 billion on scientific research in the last 10 years. The rate of return on these taxpayer research investments was just $8.3 million a year, or 0.09 percent. By any standard, that’s a poor rate of return.

Beyond being a bad investment, the emphasis on research at our universities harms student learning. In fact, the average college professor only spends 21% of his time performing teaching relating activities. The rest is spent on administrative duties and research. Imagine how much the quality of education could improve if professors spent more time focusing on educating students.

Let’s change the incentives at our public universities. Don’t increase funding for research; enact policies that will shift professors’ focus back to their original mission – educating university customers.

– Elizabeth Young