Uncertain future for research funding 'worrisome' for University of Michigan
University of Michigan has one of the largest research enterprises of any university in the country.
File photo | AnnArbor.com
"We're entering a more somber time ... a time of flat or declining federal research funding in the United States," Forrest said before the U-M Board of Regents Thursday, calling the growth forecast for the next five to 10 years "worrisome."
Michigan's research enterprise was worth about $1.24 billion last year, just under its roughly $1.3 billion academic enterprise, Forrest said.
However, the school relies heavily on federal research funding. Last year, it received more than $570 million from the National Institutes of Health alone. That's 48 percent of last year's research funding.
"We have to be concerned a little bit, or a lot, about the lack of diversification," Forrest told the regents.
The university funds roughly 25 percent of its research itself, using general fund revenue and donations.
In the coming years, Forrest said, U-M can expect to see no or little growth in federal research dollars as lawmakers look to trim budgets and appease their constituents.
He said that while lawmakers in Washington have shown support for innovation and research in past years, the current political climate is likely not hospitable to research spending.
"When you talk to the American people they see the stuff that benefits them and that’s it," Forrest said. "And our elected officals have to contend with that."
The $97 million, 8.5 percent growth in research spending U-M experienced last year was more the confluence of fortunate events than the mark of a trend, Forrest said.
"We dodged a bullet," he said.
To maintain its research enterprise, the university will need to encourage faculty to submit more proposals and begin submitting proposals earlier in their career, Forrest proffered. Currently most U-M faculty don't assume the helm of a major research project until they reach their early 40s.
Further, he said, the school needs to tap into the offerings of the recently acquired 2.2 million-square-foot former Pfizer complex, which U-M renamed the North Campus Research Complex.
"It’s a great unexplored but rapidly developing new resource for this university," Forrest said of NCRC.