Annual University report shows research expenditures remain high despite pandemic

Monday, November 16, 2020 - 5:26pm

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Design by Joseph Lico

The University of Michigan’s fiscal year 2020 research expenditures were estimated to be $1.62 billion, according to a report released by the University on Monday, Nov 9. Though work at various non-critical labs had to be ramped down due to the pandemic, the University’s research community saw a surge in new projects because of the pandemic.

The University is on the frontlines of COVID-19 research with various data analytics, drugs and devices to combat the virus. For this reason, research spending is the same as what it was in 2019. 

According to the FY 2020 Research Annual Report, there have been 522 new inventions, 31 new startups and 163 patents issued in the 2020 fiscal year compared to 502, 22 and 171 in 2019 respectively.  

From 2015 to 2019, the University saw an annual average increase in research expenditures of about $75 million compared to the previous year. According to this statistic, the University was expected to reach roughly $1.70 billion for the 2020 fiscal year, which is about 5% more than the actual reporting of $1.62 billion. 

Though the math is short of the projected value, the University has pushed through the pandemic in order to remain one of the top research universities in the country. According to Dr. Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research, the University made great strides in research over the past year. 

“Researchers across our three campuses have truly embraced this vision of serving the world through research and scholarship, using their passion and expertise to address critical challenges with broad societal impact,” Cunningham said in the report

The University has continued to receive awards, grants and sponsorships for its research. This has increased the University’s endowment from $12.4 billion in 2019 to $12.5 billion for 2020 and distributions have jumped to $391 million compared to $368 million last year. 

COVID-19 has taken a toll on many aspects of University research. However, dry labs, mentorships and several other opportunities have remained available for students in moderation. 

Those involved in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program have had their fair share of troubles. The program is designed to connect incoming freshmen and sophomores with researchers willing to take on new students, but research opportunities have decreased with restrictions on which undergraduates can conduct research. According to LSA freshman Marc Titsworth, a member of UROP, far fewer projects responded to him during the application process.

“I applied to 22 different projects and only heard back from seven,” Titsworth said. “The one I finally had an interview for was the day before my decision had to be finalized. It was stressful to say the least. Many people were getting angry because of the circumstances and a few students just dropped the program.”

Randy Seeley, diabetes researcher and professor of surgery at Michigan Medicine, said it remains difficult to bring students onboard. 

“There just isn’t an easy way to bring in and train a new student right now,” Seeley said. “I suspect that come the spring, this (training new students) may get significantly easier.”

Opportunities for studying abroad and observational runs conducted outside the U.S. may have taken the hardest blow from the impacts of COVID-19. Several researchers and the students alongside them have had major setbacks in their abilities to explore topics that interest them. 

In July, David Gerdes, the chair of the Physics Department, was planning on taking two students with him to Chile in order to discover new objects that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft would come across as it explores the Kuiper Belt of the solar system. 

“The closure of observatories in Chile had a big impact on my research since they are the primary facilities I use,” Gerdes said. “I am, indeed, hopeful that when this pandemic is behind us, we can return to doing exciting science at full speed, and will be able to travel to facilities and conferences as before.”

Daily Contributor Nadir Al-Saidi can be reached at alsaidin@umich.edu


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