Continuing a trend of the University’s insulation from the state’s and country’s economic troubles, research funding at the University reached an all-time high last year and is expected to set a new record this year.

Jed Moch / Daily
University administrators watch a presentation on the state of the University’s research funding at their monthly meeting in the Fleming Administration Building yesterday.

In his annual report to the Board of Regents yesterday, Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest said the University’s research funding increased by 6.4 percent, to a total of $876 million.

That number sets the University’s total funding for research above those schools it considers to be its peers, including Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Federal funding to the University of Michigan increased by 2.7 percent — to $611 million — while business contributions to research jumped 11 percent from last year, to $43 million.

Despite the record-setting amounts spent on research, Forrest said he expects an additional 6 percent increase in funding for the 2009 fiscal year. Research funding currently accounts for nearly one-third of the University’s non-hospital budget.

While the current economic crisis and new federal and local governmental priorities have shifted focus toward energy research, Forrest said the University’s long-term planning already places it at the forefront of this emerging research field.

“Energy is probably the No. 1 challenge facing humanity this century, and the University of Michigan is well-positioned to seize this opportunity and to help find solutions,” he said in a statement released at the meeting.

Forrest highlighted several current energy research projects at the University, including the recently announced partnership with General Motors Corp. to develop advanced batteries for electric vehicles. That partnership will bring $5 million to the University over the next five years.

According to Forrest, the University and its partners are also interested in expanding research to other areas of energy sustainability, including more advanced solar cells and more efficient wind turbines.

Forrest reported that the stimulus appropriation bill being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives includes $400 million for energy research projects from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The bill has not yet passed, but if it does, Forrest said the University would likely receive some of the funding.

“Federal energy research has been woefully underfunded, but the government has woken up to the fact that we’re losing a huge competitive opportunity, and the University of Michigan played a role in that re-awakening,” he said. “There is a tremendous convergence of events happening right now, and here we are sitting right in the center of it.”

Additionally, Forrest said he was proud of the Business Engagement Center, which his office launched about seven months ago in conjunction with the University’s Office of Development. The center was founded because researchers and companies had difficulties connecting with each other to form research partnerships in the past.

Forrest said the center provides a single point for the two parties to meet and develop new research projects and strengthen research partnerships.

“By taking strategic moves early on, we can prepare for some of the choppy waters that we see,” he said. “I find that we’re in a very good position in many respects in research activities.”

Forrest mentioned the University’s recent plans to purchase the former Pfizer, Inc. complex near North Campus, saying the purchase would be an opportunity for increased research. The University announced its intent to purchase the campus in December.

“It’s a time of great challenge, but it’s also a time when we have great opportunities,” Forrest told the regents. “The Pfizer property is one of them.”

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