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Big 3 Michigan Schools Lead In Degrees, Lag In Startups

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DETROIT (AP) - An alliance of Michigan’s three largest universities awards more degrees than any other such network, but it lags rivals in the prized mission of transferring technology out of the classroom and into commercial ventures, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report found the University Research Corridor tops the list of eight university networks nationwide for enrollment and the number of degrees awarded, particularly in high technology. But the alliance, which consists of University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, placed next to last in technology transfer, and last in launching startups over a five-year period that ended with fiscal year 2012.

The other groups represent major universities in Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and northern and southern California. Officials say the report helps show how Michigan’s universities stack up against big players such as Stanford, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and become more attractive for top students and faculty as well as public and private investment.

The report also underscores a new challenge for big universities: Serve as economic, as well as academic drivers for their regions and states.

“Annual reports really help us benchmark,” University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman told The Associated Press. “It’s easy to benchmark yourself against yourself, so we look at areas of the nation that have shown to be very highly innovative and good places for startup businesses.”

The report, commissioned by the URC and written for the past seven years by East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group, ranks Michigan’s alliance second among university groups in what the consulting firm dubbed an Innovation Power Ranking that includes technology transfer, talent and research. The report said the last two areas have greater weight in the ranking because they more closely align with universities’ core mission, but commercialization and becoming an economic development engine are becoming more emphasized.

“While the numbers aren’t up in the top category, they’re still pretty strong,” University Research Corridor Executive Director Jeff Mason said of the schools’ technology transfer performance. “We’ll see hopefully over the next few years the numbers continue to grow.”

University of Michigan long has been a national leader in tech transfer, including spinning out companies. Of the 14 startups launched by the three state universities in fiscal year 2012, 11 came from University of Michigan and three from Michigan State.

Coleman acknowledged the drop in business startups and said university leaders “are going to focus our attention on that” because moving innovation from university labs into the marketplace is important for the state.

The numbers show officials are trying to prime the pump: The URC spent about $2.1 billion on research and development, a 4 percent increase from the previous year that places it fourth among the eight university “clusters” with which it compares itself. It also has increased 48 percent since 2007, the second highest jump among its academic peers during the same period.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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