Report: Federal obligations to research universities dropped in 2015
- A report by the National Science Foundation discovered that obligations on the part of the federal government to universities dedicated to science and engineering fell by 2% during Fiscal Year 2015, according to Inside Higher Ed, with the total falling to $30.5 billion from $31.1 billion.
- Most of the total funding, including most of the decline, came from research and development funding, at a loss of about $550 million — though federal support for fellowships and training stayed steady from the prior fiscal year, while funding for research and development facilities slightly dropped.
- More than half of the federal funding was provided by the Department of Health and Human Services, with the National Science Foundation and the Defense Department contributing lesser amounts.
The news from the NSF report comes as research universities have struggled to advocate for maintaining indirect cost payments from the federal government as a means to fund their facilities. Additionally, states in Michigan’s University Research Corridor have been struggling with budget cuts on the part of the state legislature that have not been restored as of yet, leaving significant gaps in supporting research and development, as well as staff.
The problem for school leaders, particularly those at smaller research colleges and universities, is that governmental assistance such as federal obligations for R&D funding can often be disproportionately beneficial to those smaller institutions, which can subsequently leave them disproportionately damaged by any removal of funding. Larger institutions may be able to fundraise to fill gaps on the strength of name recognition, renown, and affluent alumni networks, but smaller schools may struggle to make up the difference. These schools may forgo spending on R&D, for example, in order to fill what they deem are funding necessities elsewhere on campus, which could lead to a gradual degradation of quality at many of those facilities. School leaders can reach out to alumni, legislators and other stakeholders to convey the economic cost of such decisions in the long term.
- Inside Higher Ed Print This Federal Research Support for Universities Dipped in 2015