At the University’s Board of Regents meeting last month, Stephen Forrest, the University’s vice president for research, introduced the University’s annual research report with the pretense that the future of research funding from the federal government appears bleak.
The report revealed that while federal funding has increased marginally this year in comparison to last, future funding is uncertain amid fluctuating trends in financial support from industry and federal-level partnerships. Possible funding cuts from the government and the National Institutes of Health could cause major changes in the University’s research funding plan, according to University officials.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily last month, University President Mary Sue Coleman said if federal financial support decreases, funding research at the University could be problematic.
“If that happens, we’re going to have to look at everything; there’s no easy answer,” Coleman said. “It’s going to be a big challenge to us, because we already subsidize research to the tune of about 25 percent of the $1.2 billion (research budget).”
Despite the possible federal funding setbacks, Forrest said he believes in the strength of the University’s research programs and its continued push toward innovation. He added that research initiatives are still a high priority to the federal government, and the University expects to remain competitive with other leading research universities moving forward.
“We are hoping that we can be more competitive so we can keep building research enterprise in the face of cuts,” Forrest said. “The bottom line is that during these tough economic times, we are at least encouraged by the fact that innovation, research and new ideas have strong bipartisan support by both Congress and the president.”
Forrest added that industry funding is becoming increasingly important because it strengthens federal ties.
“We are working hard to diversify our funding sources, as corporate funding is important for many reasons,” Forrest said. “They make us familiar with problems that are important in the real world, as essential (industry) team members are on many federal proposals.”
Coleman said the University will use its history of success to look to various other sources to increase research funding.
“I think we have a lot of options to look at, that is, increased philanthropy for research, which we’ve had some big success with, more interaction with industry — we’ve had success with that,” Coleman said. “We’ve had success in helping our professors make sure that their proposals are competitive by doing pre-reviews and all sorts of things to help them get a bigger share of the research budget.”
Despite the financial difficulties that may lay ahead for University research programs, Forrest said he is hopeful for the future.
“My outlook for the future is always optimistic, that is my nature,” Forrest said. “Some doors close, others will open. This is a time of enormous opportunity as things are in flux. We can do very well and that is exciting.”
Engineering Prof. Paul Carson, whose research would be affected by a funding decrease, echoed Coleman, and said the University will continue to compete for research funds from both governmental and industry sources.
“Michigan has been concentrating on being a major research university since I began 30 years ago,” Carson said. “Our radiology department has been the fourth highest in grant dollars in the country and it has been that way for the last five years.”
Carson added that he doesn’t think the lack of growth in federal funding will hinder the advancement of individual University departments.
“Although national funding has not grown as much, (the) biomedical department has more growth potential (and) EECS has been a leader in funding but has slipped in the number of students,” Carson said. “Regardless, they will continue to be strong departments.”
He added that despite the federal funding cuts, the University will continue to support research initiatives, particularly with potential pending corporate aid and the newly opened North Campus Research Complex.
“Federal funding is likely to decline in the short-term as we address federal budget issues and decline more seriously as we come out of the recession,” Carson said. “We will not be growing in research dollars as we have in the last decade, but the fact that we have the North Campus Research Complex with lots of growth potential, we can grow despite the decreasing federal funding.”
Daily News Editor Paige Pearcy contributed to this report