The state of Michigan and its college graduates deserve the very best opportunity to compete at the highest levels in the global economy.
Preparation for that competition requires our students to have the skills and experiences best acquired through human interaction and collaborative problem solving. For generations, our three universities have excelled at providing this type of education, and our ability to attract top international students and professors is crucial to our future success.
Since 2006, our institutions have partnered to advance the state’s economy through the University Research Corridor. As the three largest research universities in Michigan, our URC alliance works to attract and create businesses in the information economy, while leveraging innovative research to drive economic growth, educate the workforce and plant the seeds for the industries of tomorrow.
While the vast majority of our students come from the state of Michigan, we also attract more than 10 percent from foreign countries. And those who remain in the U.S. to work after graduation are nearly as likely as domestic students to stay in Michigan.
Students from different places also help our campuses better reflect the global diversity our graduates are expected to understand, and they enhance the quality of our teaching and research.
Our state is stronger as a result.
Our three URC campuses are winning when it comes to producing economically competitive talent. The 34,500 total degrees we conferred in 2015 are the most of any university innovation cluster in the nation. This includes those centered in Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area and North Carolina. The URC was also No. 1 in medical degrees awarded and second in high-tech degrees.
In a statewide partnership spearheaded by Global Detroit, the URC helped to create the nation’s first international student retention program, the Global Talent Retention Initiative. The GTRI works to retain talent for Michigan employers, and its “Pathway to National Competitiveness Report” in 2013 concluded that, “simply put, retaining international students after they graduate is the pathway to becoming the Silicon Valley of the Midwest.”
Our state also benefits from being a destination for some of the most educated and creative researchers from all around the world. Together, our universities generate more than $2 billion per year in research funding. We are able to attract such high levels of investment in our intellectual capacity because we can recruit and retain the best minds, regardless of origin.
We agree with Gov. Rick Snyder that immigrants have added significantly to the economic strength of our state. All three of our universities can better serve society — and our economy — because of international scholars.
Dr. Safwan Badr, who immigrated from Syria in 1983, chairs the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine. A graduate of Damascus University Medical School, Badr is an internationally known sleep researcher with an impressive record of publication, mentoring and competitive research funding. He has made major contributions to our understanding of the causes of sleep apnea and has mentored numerous trainees who have launched successful academic careers.
Michigan State professor Hayder Radha came from Baghdad, Iraq. He helped pioneer the rollout of digital TV in the U.S., developed key aspects of internet video streaming and holds 30 U.S. patents. Today, he directs MSU’s autonomous vehicle research program and partners with Michigan auto manufacturers to develop technologies for advanced mobility.
Kamal Sarabandi, an immigrant from Iran, is a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan. Known as a leader in radar sensing, his research is used by NASA and U.S. Department of Defense. He holds 14 U.S. patents, has eight more pending, and has founded companies to market some of his technologies. The first company, EMAG, has already brought more than $60 million and 10 jobs to the Ann Arbor area.
There are countless examples of international students and professors making positive differences in communities throughout Michigan.
Our research universities give the people and businesses of our state an advantage in the global innovation economy. Keeping our doors open to the global community of scholars will enhance our ability to compete and power Michigan’s future.
Mark S. Schlissel is president of the University of Michigan; Lou Anna K. Simon is president of Michigan State University; and M. Roy Wilson is president of Wayne State University.