Academic research needs a new funding model

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As federal support for academic research declines, universities are losing capacity to address significant global challenges through cutting-edge research.

In a recently published piece in The Conversation, the University of Minnesota’s Brian Herman, Ph.D., vice president for research, and Claudia Neuhauser, Ph.D., associate vice president for research, highlight how research universities must consider new models for academic R&D funding.

Limited federal funding leaves research universities locked in a fierce battle for a diminishing pool of resources.

In the past, long-term investments in academic research made by federal, state and local governments have played an integral role in keeping the U.S. at the forefront of innovation. Now, Herman and Neuhauser said, there’s too little research money available to support existing research talent and facilities that could be used to help address global challenge. They also highlight how universities are increasingly relying on their own institutional funding to fill the gaps left by inflation and eroded federal funding.

To fix the broken funding model, Herman and Neuhauser discuss how institutions can coordinate and collaborate to share resources, materials, data and infrastructure, leading to significant cost savings. They also highlight a means for providing incentive for industry to invest in university research that aids in the development of innovative solutions, as industry can then scale up these solutions to create economic value.

See the full article in The Conversation.

One thought on “Academic research needs a new funding model

  1. Drs. Herman and Neuhauser have correctly identified the problem of decreasing research funding. Their solution, increased use of industry funds, has many problems. First, while industry is complex and has many different approaches to spending their profits, they have, as indicated, been focused on short-term needs as opposed to longer term investments. Inappropriate conflicts of mission are not at all uncommon and the impact of greater industry support on the concept of an open inquiry model for higher education is real. In some cases, shared resources across multiple campuses can lead to cost savings and certainly for exceedingly large facilities are the only viable approach. However, these shared resources come with the cost of our students not having direct exposure to the latest and most advanced technologies.
    The answer to low support for science in the most technologically advanced nation is more grant funding. With grants being funded at an all-time low rate, often as low as 5-8% in some programs, the need for additional support of university based research has reached desperate proportions. However, the University of Minnesota has only a small staff in Washington, DC that is not actively engaged in seeking significant changes in budgets for the lead funding agencies. Universities and tax-exempt scientific societies are limited in their Congressional communications even when adequately staffed, due to their tax-exempt or state government status. However, faculty unions can be ‘full-fledged’ lobbyists for increased research funding and can enter into partnerships with scientific societies like AAAS for strategic initiatives. Without a doubt unions have a long and traditional record of being effective lobbyists for their constituent interests, we simply need to be that constituency. When we unionize at the University of Minnesota we will be one of the largest faculty unions in the nation and our ability to serve as a voice for the national research agenda will be new, strong and potentially a game changer in this important area. An un-organized faculty will continue to be only an observer and we will continue to hear many, some unrealistic, proposals for other sources of needed investment.

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