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News Release 97-076

NSF Distinguished Lecturer Warns Higher Ed Must Adapt to World Forces of Change

December 15, 1997

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

A former chancellor of the University of California-Berkeley today told engineers and scientists at the National Science Foundation (NSF) that "time is running out" for American higher education to adapt to world forces that are changing the nature of business, education and society.

Chang-Lin Tien delivered words of encouragement and warning during his NSF Distinguished Engineering Lecture concerning "future challenges facing American higher education." Now the university's NEC Distinguished Professor of Engineering, Tien stepped down earlier this year after serving seven years as chancellor.

Tien urged American colleges and universities to diversify their sources of financial support, to encourage young faculty to engage in teaching and basic research, and to reform the traditional tenure system. He also called on the higher education community to better foster racial and ethnic diversity among students and employees, to shift operational thinking from seeking short-term success to pursuing long-range goals and to become deeply involved with improving the quality of primary and secondary education.

"American higher education is still the best in the world, but it is very needy, very stressed," Tien said. Compared to universities and colleges in Europe and Asia, American schools appear to be doing very well, "but that is only because other countries are doing worse." Economic problems and administrative lethargy are worldwide problems that will only worsen unless campuses adopt fiscal and academic innovation, he said.

Tien urged public universities to engage in more aggressive fund raising among their alumni, a source of largely untapped goodwill, he said. As chancellor, he shifted his university's portfolio from what he believed was an over-dependence on support from state and federal research funds.

Tien warned against a widening gulf between universities and secondary education. "American higher education must do something to improve the K-12 system - or pretty soon there will be no qualified students" to admit to U.S. colleges and universities. He urged universities to become "deeply involved" with helping to improve the curriculum and facilities of neighboring primary and secondary schools.

Tien said higher education must adapt more quickly to the information and telecommunications revolution. As chancellor, he replaced the adage for faculty to "publish or perish" with "get online or face decline." Among high-tech advancements, he urged "distance learning"--widespread, electronic education to an increasingly diverse population in need of technical skills. He said "shared teaching" among faculty from different disciplines and even different institutions will improve the quality of education and save scarce resources.

Recalling his own progress from being "a penniless immigrant" to the chancellorship of California's flagship public university, Tien said America's "democratic system and cultural diversity" make the United States especially adaptable to change and give it a competitive edge over its less democratic, more homogeneous neighbors. California's growing Asian and Hispanic populations, if well educated and employed, "can do wonders for our relations with the nations of the Pacific Rim and Latin America."

Tien's lecture was the second in the semi-annual series of Distinguished Engineering Lectures inaugurated this year at NSF. NSF has supported Tien's pioneering research in heat transfer engineering for three decades.


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The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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