Public research universities have long been powerful, problem solving institutions. Particularly in the field of agriculture, land-grant universities have solved problems in the production sector by making improvements in areas like agronomy, plant disease, and soil management. Many of the problems of the past fit comfortably within the disciplinary boundaries that define university departments, like addressing significant plant diseases or producing new varieties of plants with higher yields. Public research universities, with their disciplinary strengths, continue to make notable accomplishments that improve productivity, yields, and increase food supply.
Yet today, the challenges of ensuring food and nutrition security, as this and other reports detail, are more complex. Greater investments are needed to produce more food and fiber, but such production must also be done with greater efficiency, less impact on the environment, methods that support long-term productive capacity, and with underlying policy support. Such challenges demand approaches that engage a wide range of biophysical and social science actors who can productively interact to create solutions.
Much like the food system, the university discovery, engagement, and learning system is a complex, interagency, multidimensional process influenced by history, established processes, and longstanding institutions. As with most institutions, universities are highly responsive to their resource base. Funding and constituencies determine a great deal of their structure and their behavior. With regard to the university resource base, several notable trends have developed in recent decades.
The members of the Commission and working groups, in consultation with experts in matters related to institutional transformation, identified four areas where universities can address institutional barriers to meeting the Grand Challenge to sustainably feed an expanding population and improve prospects of food and nutrition security for all.