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Our Programs

University Leadership Forum (ULF)

A Council on Competitiveness Initiative to Address Higher Education’s Role in the Emerging Innovation Landscape

Since the Council’s founding in 1986, college and university leaders have played a central role in developing and championing critical federal and state policies to drive regional and national economic development, basic research, technology commercialization and job creation. From the Council’s groundbreaking Clusters of Innovation work in the late 1990s to the focus on national innovation capacity and the passage of the America COMPETES Act in the early 2000s, through to current leadership on energy, manufacturing, enterprise resilience and technology policy—the Council’s college and university leaders have helped set the agenda for U.S. competitiveness in Washington and across the country.

When Council founder, John Young, then CEO of Hewlett-Packard, founded the organization, he brought together CEOs, labor leaders and the heads of many of America’s top academic institutions recognizing the myriad of interconnections between these key decisionmakers and the impact they have on U.S. economic competitiveness and innovation. Over the years, a diverse set of leaders from the higher education community have played key roles in setting the Council’s innovation agenda. The president of MIT hosted the Council’s first innovation summit in 1998. The president of Georgia Tech co-chaired the groundbreaking National Innovation Initiative. The Council’s regional innovation work that led to major federal programs in economic and workforce development was spearheaded by the president of the University of Akron. And, in 2018 the Council’s university co-chair and president of Arizona State University, Michael Crow, will co-chair and launch the National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers. Through the University Leadership Forum, the Council is ensuring colleges and universities will continue to play a vital and necessary role in ensuring U.S. long term competitiveness.

Inspiration and Vision

Colleges and universities are critical components of the U.S. innovation ecosystem and are being called upon to play ever-evolving roles in research, economic development, skills training and life-long learning. They are essential for building talent; achieving scientific breakthroughs; creating new technologies, products, companies and organizations; and contributing the local economy. Yet, budgetary constraints and the rapid pace of change across the economy mean these expectations are under constant pressure.

Transformations underway in the U.S., including the ongoing digitization of the manufacturing process and the way people work, shop, and play; the impact of emerging technologies on societal norms and ethics; and diverse, ever-changing expectations for the workforce of the future, are forcing colleges and universities to reevaluate their roles in this ecosystem. However, these challenges provide exciting opportunities for innovation and business, research entities, government and labor stand ready to work with higher education to explore and implement new models for success.

Understanding, anticipating and promoting change in the current models for higher education is imperative for competitiveness in the 21st Century. The University Leadership Forum will enable leaders from America’s top academic institutions to work in concert with each other and as part of the broader Council membership, including CEOs, labor union leaders and the directors of national laboratories to: understand how the innovation landscape is changing, consider actions the institution might take, mobilize to lower or eliminate shared barriers; and identify potential innovation partners. While the focus will be on academia, industry and other stakeholders will participate to share best practices on cooperation to continue relationships for innovation.


Michael Lovell

Marquette University

Jere W. Morehead

University of Georgia

Areas of Focus

  1. Extreme Innovation As research and creativity has flourished, emerging technologies are arriving that will shape the lives of U.S. citizens. Colleges and universities will be providers and recipients of these revolutions exemplifying best utilizations for the public to reproduce. Faculty and students are looking into technologies such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, supercomputers, quantum, fusion energy, and block-chain; technologies which will carry the country into a new era of extreme innovation. While these fields are researched and developed by colleges and universities, higher education will inevitably be shaped by these technologies introducing unique challenges that must be addressed.
  2. University-Industry Partnerships Industry relies on colleges and universities for investment in early-stage technology, proof of concept for new processes and products, academic expertise, and the education and training of students to successfully enter the workforce. The research and development of many of the world's game-changing technologies would not be possible without these partnerships. Programs and projects that bring together higher education and industry allow for mutually beneficial outcomes that support academic research, enhance industry capabilities and support local and regional economic development. Industry partners also can provide critical guidance on technological and economic trends, including skillsets needed in the workforce, a critical indicator for new programs or degrees students can pursue.
  3. STEM and the Liberal Arts When engineers think like artists and artists think like engineers, new perspectives are created on the road to discovery. Through disciplines like art, history, philosophy, language and music, scientists and engineers can push the boundaries of their disciplines often resulting in groundbreaking research. As corporations increasingly utilize liberal art infusion to encourage creative thinking, the next generation of workers must be prepared to apply both arts and science skills to take maximum advantage of new opportunities. Multidisciplinary education comprising fields such as biomimicry, computer graphics and a host of dual degree programs has become a difference-maker for U.S. students that will allow them to compete globally. This shift includes the integration of STEM education and the arts through a concept called STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), which promotes greater interaction across fields.
Opportunity at the Intersection of STEM and the Liberal Arts
A Video Series Featuring Business Leaders with a Passion for the Arts & Humanities
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