In a meeting with The Augusta Chronicle and in a preliminary draft of a strategic plan called Transformation 2020, Azziz and university leaders laid out a broad strategy toward the new university becoming a top 50 institution in federal National Institutes of Health funding, as well as a health professions hub for programs across the state and a community force in Augusta.
The plan was to answer inquiries from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office and University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby about what the university’s future would be in health professions in Georgia. The plan envisions a “hub and spoke” model of delivering advanced health care degrees with other institutions across the state and even reaching out to two-year institutions delivering associate or technical degrees.
It envisions growing the university to “become a top-tier academic institution,” Azziz said. “We’ll hopefully host the second (National Cancer Institute)-designated Cancer Center. We’ll increase in student population by about 25 percent. Presumably that consolidation (with ASU) is part of that vision so that, in fact, we become a larger, broader research-comprehensive university and not just a standalone health sciences university.”
But that also means growing research substantially. In order to go from around 70th in NIH funding into the top 50, the amount would have to increase from about $63 million to $80 million to $90 million.
“This vision clearly is going to require a high-level branding and recruitment so we can get the best of the best,” Azziz said. “It’s going to require us to double our research dollars. We may have to recruit
another 100-150 scientists over the next five years. It’s going to mean that we’re going to have to … at least double our research facilities in that period of time. It’s going to require really significant philanthropic support and investment by both our local community as well as our state and national communities in this regard. Philanthropy is going to drive this.”
In the past, the university has not capitalized on local and statewide donors but that is changing, Azziz said, pointing to fundraising for a new Medical Education Commons Building.
“The Education Commons building, we have raised so far $15 million, of which a significant portion of that is from Augusta,” he said. “That actually reflects to us that there is the willingness to give.”
Transformation 2020 talks about leveraging “the enterprise’s total debt capacity to enable greater opportunities for public/private capital ventures for research, clinical, and academic facilities.” And that will be needed with greater competition for both state and federal funding as well as philanthropic support across not just the region or state but also globally. The same goes for new research talent, students and patients, Azziz said.
“This is truly today a time for people who have to relish competition and have to be willing to actually adapt,” Azziz said. “I tell my team that we love our competitors because they will determine for us how fast we move and what our ideas are. Without them, we’re just going to be sitting still.”
While a new name for the university has yet to be chosen, Azziz said he plans to move his offices to ASU while leaving the provost’s office and other officials with the GHSU campus. The name will be chosen after consultation with branding experts and input both internally and externally. All Azziz, who is staying out of it, could say at this point is it likely would be no more than three words; one of them will be “university” and one of them will not be “health,” he said.
“The name will have to reflect who we are,” he said.