Universities face cuts in research facility reimbursements

Dive Brief:

  • Though federal funding to support university research enjoys broad bipartisan support, there is some support for President Donald Trump’s proposal to drastically cut “indirect-cost reimbursements,” which government agencies offer research universities to cover facility and administrative costs, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • Some critics argue the government should enact a flat rate for such reimbursements, saying there was no incentive for universities not to spend more. However, supporters argued cutting the reimbursements could lead to a “race for the bottom,” and disproportionately burden all but the wealthiest institutions.
  • Some universities, however, may be fine with lower rates, provided direct research is funded more robustly. Colleges and universities find that strong research divisions with federal funding help attract the top students, own patents and garner strong philanthropic support.

Dive Insight:

It may be correct that cuts to indirect-cost reimbursements will not largely affect prestigious universities, but it could have a troubling effect on the state of research in the country’s universities writ large. Not every high-quality student will be able to afford the wealthiest colleges, and not every enterprising researcher will find work there. If research facilities at smaller, less wealthy institutions degrade or dissipate over time due to the lack of funding, it could stymie scientific breakthroughs, which do not always emanate from top universities.

The indirect-cost reimbursements colleges and universities receive do not exist in isolation; if a university loses that reimbursement, the funding to upgrade research facilities may be taken from somewhere else, or may not allocated at all. As state and federal allocations for research universities and colleges diminish, colleges and universities may find themselves squeezed at all angles, deciding that their primary investments should not include upkeep of a research facility to keep pace with wealthier institutions. The result could be a situation where the possibility for scientific discovery is reduced to a few choice facilities and researchers, which will lessen the possibility for success.


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Filed Under: Higher Ed Policy & Regulation
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