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News Release 98-014

NSB Offers Recommendations on Future of Federal Role in Graduate Education

February 27, 1998

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 Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The National Science Board (NSB) urges a reexamination of the federal/university partnership, and offers several recommendations for improvement, in a policy paper released today titled "The Federal Role in Science and Engineering Graduate and Postdoctoral Education."

"The partnership has been working well, but signs of stress and distress are clearly evident and need attention," said NSB Chairman and Stanford chemist Richard Zare.

The Board paper describes changes such as an increased demand for higher education; and acknowledges many stresses on universities and faculty resulting from those changes, such as rising costs and administrative burdens. In more than a dozen recommendations, the Board emphasizes the integration of research and education, an expansion of the partnership to include a wider range of institutions, broader career options for graduate students outside the research university, and diversity in graduate education.

The paper reflects the results of a Board meeting in Houston last October at which Board members and invited speakers focused on the federal role in graduate and postdoctoral education. That meeting, and the resulting paper, responded to a request from Presidential Science Adviser John Gibbons for NSB input to the Presidential Review Directive on the Government/University Partnership (GUPPRD).

"The partnership is fundamentally sound and has been highly successful for the nation," said NSB member and Tulane University President Eamon Kelly, who coordinated the Houston meeting and the production of the policy paper. "The principles that were created after World War II still hold true."

NSB Chairman Zare emphasized the critical role that the federal government plays in science and engineering education, both at the graduate and postdoctoral levels. "Federal support helps advance fundamental knowledge while enriching the education of the next generation of scientists and engineers. However, the partnership between the federal government and universities in research and education needs to be adjusted to reflect changes over the past 50 years."

The National Science Board is composed of 24 members who represent the leadership of U.S. science and engineering. They are appointed by the President to oversee the National Science Foundation and to monitor the health of science in the nation. The paper responds to the board's responsibility in national science policy.


Editors: NSB papers and other materials are available at: (The policy paper titled "The Federal Role in Science and Engineering Graduate and Postdoctoral Education" will be posted shortly.)

The National Science Board

The Federal Role in Science and Engineering Graduate and Postdoctoral Education
Approved at the 347th NSB Meeting


The Government/University Partnership in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education: Principles and Practices for the Future

1. Federal Support to the Enterprise

  • The Federal government reward and recognize institutions that initiate model programs for the integration of research and education.

  • Mission agencies funding agency-initiated research in academic institutions recognize the intimate connection between research and graduate education in universities. They should adopt principles and practices exploiting that interconnection and insure that their funding reaps the dual benefits of simultaneously advancing both research and graduate education.

  • The Federal government contribute to promoting closer collaboration between faculty in non-research and research institutions. Such collaboration in research offers opportunities for greater exposure to a variety of career options for graduate students. It can also improve the transition from undergraduate to graduate programs across institutions. The improvement of that transition is especially important for reaching minority undergraduates. Federal investments, particularly in communications infrastructure, can expand the scope of these programs.

2. Breadth vs. Narrowness of Graduate Education

  • University programs and Federal support policies continue to encourage exceptionally talented students to pursue Ph.D. programs and to develop their capacities to advance knowledge in their chosen disciplines;

  • The Federal partner recognize and reward institutions that, in addition to the core Ph.D. education, provide a range of educational and training options to graduate students, options tailored to the career interests of the individual Ph.D. candidate. These might include interdisciplinary emphasis, teamwork, business management skills, and information technologies.

3. Human Resource Policies

  • The Federal and university partners seek more effective ways of promoting diversity and full access to graduate education, guarding against strategies that inadvertently keep underrepresented groups from the mainstream of research and graduate education. Efforts should emphasize identification of high-ability students earlier in the educational experience, including the precollege level, and encouraging them to consider careers in science and engineering.

    The Board recommends the attention of universities to the following areas:

    • To assure access for high ability students, examine the current use and possible misuse of assessment tools for entry to, and financial support for, graduate education, e.g. the Graduate Record Examination scores (GREs); and

    • Recognize postdoctoral researchers as a significant component of the system of graduate research and education in some areas, and better integrate postdoctoral scholars into the university community.

4. Impact of Federal Regulatory and Funding Practices on the Culture of Institutions

  • Support university-initiated efforts to insure in the science and engineering faculty reward systems an appropriate balance between recognition for excellence in research and excellence in teaching, mentoring, and other areas of faculty responsibility;

  • Examine how it can prevent unnecessary and unintentional interruptions in academic research programs and in associated support to graduate students that may result from the vagaries of the Federal research funding environment.

  • Review conflicting or confusing treatment of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers--as students or employees--in Federal regulations and policies. The review should entail consideration of both consistency across agencies and coherence between the purposes of regulations and administrative requirements and Federal objectives for supporting and integrating research and education in academic institutions.

Issues to be Negotiated Between the Partners

  • Strategies to attract and retain talented students from underrepresented groups. These strategies might include consideration, in some cases, of criteria for support on research grants;

  • The respective Federal and university responsibilities for reducing the administrative burden on faculty researchers/teachers to increase time available for mentoring and other educational and service activities that enrich the learning environment. This needs to be coupled with the alignment of faculty reward systems, as described in Section II.4.

  • Improved policy data to assess the effectiveness of current Federal support for graduate education including attention to attrition and time-to-degree, and to identify current and emerging national needs for the science and engineering workforce.

Media Contacts
Mary E. Hanson, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

Program Contacts
Jean Pomeroy, NSF, (703) 292-7000, email:

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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