Monday, August 13, 2007

CSUS' $31 Million Training Proposal Faces More Scrutiny

A "breathtaking," $31 million proposal to train 4,000 young persons in biotech skills has been sent off for more critical examination by two directors of the California stem cell agency.

Last week six representatives of the California State University and College system presented the five-year plan to CIRM's directors, who both praised and criticized it. One, Janet Wright, called it "breathtaking" and "visionary."

The proposal represents a joint effort by the 114 community colleges in California and the 23-campus state university and college system (which does not include the University of California).

The proposal keyed off the widespread belief that biotech firms in California have difficulty finding skilled workers. Such expressions by industry groups often can be translated to: "We cannot find enough workers at the wages we are willing to pay."

John Reed, head of the Burnham Institute and a member of the CIRM Oversight Committee, questioned whether CIRM is the best source for funding the training program. He noted that Prop. 71 was aimed at providing funding for research that is not available from the federal government. He said there is no prohibition against any agency providing biotech training. Reed asked for specific statistics on the need in California as opposed national statistics provided by CSUS. (Reporter Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune had more from Reed on his views.)

Ed Penhoet, vice chairman of CIRM, also expressed an interest in more information. He wanted to know how successful are CSUS' existing training programs.

Other questions could be asked as well. If there is a great need for training and if biotech is as important to the California economy as argued by CSUS, one could wonder why the system is not already doing the training on its own. It would seem to be a basic part of the system's mission. One could ask whether alternative approaches to the training exist – something less costly than $31 million. However, the figure translates to $7,500 a student, which might be a bargain.

One could wonder why this proposal was not presented to the staff earlier and vetted for answers to just such questions, including Reed's and Penhoet's, prior to coming to the board. The CIRM board is constantly pressed for time for matters that only it can decide, such as the rules for the $227 million lab program, which came up later in the day of the presentation. By mid-afternoon, Oversight Committee members were disappearing to catch planes and to take care of their other many responsibilities. A written, staff analysis of the plan would have already developed answers to questions posed by Oversight Committee members and saved valuable time.

CSUS promised to address all the concerns in writing before the October meeting of the Oversight Committee, when committee members David Serrano Sewell and Marcy Feit are scheduled to report back on the proposal. Hopefully, they will ask the staff to weigh in as well. Sphere: Related Content

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