Johns Hopkins' Daniels talks higher education, innovation at Milken conference

President takes part in panel discussion on how universities can contribute to regional economic development

Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels was among the panelists at the Milken Institute's Global Conference last week, taking part in a discussion on how universities across the country are increasing their roles in regional economic development.

The panelists examined innovative models of collaboration with the private and government sectors that are spurring regional economic growth. They also discussed how universities are walking the tightrope of balancing a commitment to basic scientific research—where new knowledge is generated—with their desire and need to maximize returns from transferring technology to the private sector.

As an example, Daniels discussed the ongoing culture change at Johns Hopkins, where an emphasis on publishing scientific research is increasingly being partnered with a push to patent discoveries and accelerate their time to market.

"It's about the commitment of leadership to see that there's nothing unseemly about this," Daniels said. "Indeed, when we have gone out and talked to leadership across the university and talked to faculty who are in receipt of these federal funds to try to persuade them to contribute to this enterprise, we seldom talk about revenue. What we talk about is impact. We essentially argue that, you have these ideas, but if you don't take control of them and ensure that they actually make their way into marketable therapeutics, goods, services, devices, then we have faltered in our role and responsibility. And what has been really interesting is to see how, just in talking about this in these terms, it has unleashed a torrent of activity."

Daniels was joined on the panel by Fred Farina, chief innovation and corporate partnerships officer at the California Institute of Technology; Bahija Jallal, executive vice president of AstraZeneca and head of MedImmune, its global biologics research and development arm; and Deval Patrick, managing director of Bain Capital and the former governor of Massachusetts.

Earlier in the week, Daniels was among the featured speakers at an invitation-only lunch event on the state of education in the U.S. The conversation, moderated by Lowell Milken, co-founder and chairman of the Milken Family Foundation, focused on solutions to challenges in the K-12 and post-secondary education systems.

Daniels recently co-authored a TIAA Institute report titled "Converging Paths: Public and Private Research Universities in the 21st Century" in which he highlights the increasing strain—much of it due to declining state support—on public research universities. In two related commentaries—one published last month by Bloomberg View, the other published last week by the Chronicle of Higher Education—Daniels notes the need to reform outdated regulations and governance and restore freedom to public universities so that they might fulfill their traditional missions.

The Milken conference, held May 1-4 in Los Angeles, attracted more than 3,500 participants and more than 700 speakers over four days. The event brings together leading thinkers and experts to explore solutions to today's most pressing challenges in financial markets, industry sectors, health, government, and education.