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NASHVILLE — Increased funding for higher education would help stop the flight of Tennessee’s best students and college faculty from the state, the president of the University of Tennessee said.

In remarks prepared for the Tennessee House higher education subcommittee meeting Wednesday, Gilley said UT and Tennessee’s other universities are watching as the top students and professors flee to other states.

UT also needs help to keep it from falling further behind other flagship universities in research, he said.

“A decade of skimpy salary increases-or no increases at all-and meager funds for laboratories and equipment have made the decision to leave UT pretty easy for some faculty,” Gilley said.

“A lack of scholarship funds for good students has had the same effect. Tennessee is losing its best minds to other states in the region.”

Public universities in Florida enroll 56 percent of that state’s National Merit Scholars, Gilley said. Texas attracts 43 percent and North Carolina 28 percent, while only 14 percent attend public institutions in Tennessee.

“When they leave their home state for college, a large number never return. These are our engineers, attorneys, accountants and leaders of the future,” Gilley said.

UT trails most Southeast flagship institutions in federal research funding, he said. The universities of North Carolina and Virginia annually attract more than $200 million in federal research funding. UT receives about $80 million in federal contracts, and there has been little growth in the last decade, he said.

To recruit and keep outstanding faculty members, Gilley said UT will be forced to pay competitive salaries.

Average faculty salaries at the University of Virginia last year were $74,500, while the University of Georgia average was $64,400.

The comparable figure for UT in Knoxville was $59,300.