Research funding at the University reached a record high of $1.27 billion last fiscal year, representing a 3-percent increase in total funds received compared to fiscal year 2011, according to a report published Sept. 20.
Stephen Forrest, the University’s vice president of research, said the $37.5 million increase was not as pronounced as it has been in previous years due to decreases in federal funding.
“(The budget increase is) not as big as amounts we’ve seen in the past, but the biggest impact on the negative side has been the fact that the (American Renewal and Recovery Act) program has basically drawn to a close,” he said in an interview.
Despite the increase in funding, total federal contributions to the research budget declined by 3.6 percent due to a $60.4 million decrease in funding from stimulus programs. The overall increase primarily came from a combination of private, industrial and internal sources.
“If you subtract out the loss due to reduction in ARRA funding, (other funds) all went up and that was pretty surprising to us,” Forrest said. “We actually had a very good year in spite of the fact that the federal budget increase was pretty weak.”
The University saw funding increases from federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, NASA and the Department of Transportation. The most notable decrease came from a drop in National Institutes of Health funding that was supported by stimulus funds. The NIH is currently the single largest funder of University research.
According to the most recent National Science Foundation report, published in 2009, the University ranks first in research expenditures among public universities and number two out of national universities, behind Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., which has a research budget approaching $2 billion.
Encompassed by the recent increase is a more than $20 million contract for the University’s Transportation Research Institute to study connected vehicle technology, which allows vehicles to gather information about road conditions and other pertinent information while traveling. The technology, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, could alert a driver about possible accidents, changes in weather conditions and traffic patterns.
This new technology could be utilized in about 80 percent of car crashes that occur between non-impaired motorists, according to the DOT.
Forrest said he expects federal research budgets to remain flat or decrease slightly over the next few years.
“I fully anticipate that the University of Michigan will maintain its leadership role as one of the premier research institutions in the world,” he said. “We’re always looking to the areas where we are unquestionably the best or have a really good shot at being the best … to take leadership and to really drive the overall success of the University forward.”
Forrest said the current economic crisis may provide the University with an opportunity to differentiate itself from other institutions.
“These are really challenging times and this is when the University of Michigan has a really good opportunity to excel, to seek advantage,” he said. “When everyone is hunkering down … we should be the most daring … and be a value to the entire nation and, of course, the world.”