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Increasing federal spending on research and science, including at universities, will be a top priority of his administration, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden told a left-of-center podcast.

Biden told Pod Save America, run by former Obama administration aides, that if he is elected, combating the coronavirus pandemic would be at the top of his agenda, followed by increasing investments to generate economic growth.

“The first thing we’re going to have to do is to, in order to compete internationally, is we're going to have to compete,” he said. “We’re going to invest in science and technology. We’re going to make sure that we can compete with the rest of the world and lead the rest of the world. We have the greatest institutes. We have more great research universities in the United States of America than every other research university in the entire rest of the world combined.”

Barbara R. Snyder, who recently became president of the Association of American Universities, said in an interview the group had written both Biden and President Donald Trump’s campaigns, urging them to increase investment in research.

The group has said federal investment in research and development had dropped since 1976 from 1.2 percent of GDP to about 0.7 percent.

In the letters, AAU urged both candidates to increase spending on scientific research and infrastructure by federal agencies by at least 5 percent a year. Of that, one-fifth should be directed toward scientific infrastructure and basic and applied research focused on areas critical for economic competitiveness and national defense, such as artificial intelligence and quantum information science.

“America’s global competitors continue to astronomically grow their research and development spending, and our nation is not keeping pace. China is on track to surpass the United States in R&D investments this year,” the association wrote the candidates.

The association’s 65 universities also created 669 start-up companies in 2017, with three-fourths of them in the immediate area of the institutions, Snyder said in an interview.

“I can hold up my smartphone,” she said as an example of technology developed with the aid of research that had been done at universities.

The Trump campaign didn't have an immediate comment.