University researchers could reap significant benefits from President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year, according to Stephen Forrest, the University’s vice president for research.
Obama’s recent $3.8 trillion budget proposal allotted over $61 billion to research funding — a 6.4 percent increase from last year. The University stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries from the increase, according to Forrest.
But despite the projected increase in research funding, some University researchers are still unsatisfied with federal research spending levels and are concerned the down economy could have a negative effect on University research.
Forrest said the University is uniquely position to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the proposed increase in research spending.
“We are the third largest research university in the country, and we’ve been growing in the top ten universities,” he said.
About 65 percent of the University’s research money comes from federal funding, Forrest said, while less than one percent of the University’s research funding comes from the state.
Because so much of the University’s research funding comes from the federal government, Forrest said he was pleased with the Obama administration’s commitment to research.
He added that the increase in research funding will put students in a better position to succeed in a troubled economy.
“What we see in this budget is a tremendous investment in the necessity to carry out research, as part of both spurring the economic recovery as well as keeping America at a very long-term competitive position from work force generation from our students,” he said.
Though the increased research spending in Obama’s budget will ultimately mean more money for University researchers, Forrest said the researchers will still have to compete in order to get that money.
“These are not earmarks,” he said. “This is money that goes into competitive programs that are competed for nationally, in some cases internationally. You have to have the best ideas to win.”
Forrest said no specific University program would stand to benefit more than others, but certain research areas are bound to acquire larger budgetary allocations.
He explained that, historically, about 10 percent of federal funding goes to the Institute for Social Research, 20 percent to the College of Engineering, 40 percent to the Medical School and the remaining to various programs at the University.
Eva Feldman, director for the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, said though she is pleased with Obama’s commitment to research as evidenced in his proposed budget, she is still unsatisfied with current funding levels, specifically for biomedical research.
“Approximately 80 to 85 percent of grants go unfunded, so there’s a lot of good research that currently is not being funded,” she said. “We see (biomedical research) as a pivotal part of our nation’s well-being, our nation’s industry, where we really highly achieve.”
Forrest said the federal distribution of funding can often overlook certain areas of research — most notably energy and sustainability.
“I think particularly in the area of energy research, that we’ve always been in this country very, very under-funded compared to the challenge that we’re trying to confront,” he said.
Forrest said despite some areas being overlooked, the budget proposal indicates the Obama administration places a high value on research — especially in light of the current economic situation.
“You have to balance (research spending) against the other societal needs,” Forrest said. “I think (the budget proposal) shows a deep commitment and necessity to this for our economic well-being and our strategic well-being.”
Sean Morrison, director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology at the Life Sciences Institute, said despite the projected increase in federal funding for University research, the economic situation has made it more difficult for the federal government to fund research.
“Over the past several years, levels of funding for biomedical research have declined relative to the historical rate of growth,” he said. “Because of the difficult economic climate, the current administration would like to increase funding for (the) National Institutes of Health, but they’re constrained in their ability to do so because of the budget problems.”
Morrison added that though the budget proposal will likely help University researchers, there is still a concern that the University could soon feel the effects of reduced research spending.
“There may be a lot of laboratories that may lose a lot of their funding and close down completely,” he said.