October 14, 2012 in Idaho

UI research funding remains stable

Estelle Gwinn Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Despite budget cuts the University of Idaho has maintained sufficient funding for research, which National Science Board members said is crucial to the state economy.

The board recently ranked the country’s public research universities by their funding cuts. University of Idaho received the 19th biggest decline in state funding with a 24 percent cut between 2002 and 2010.

“The National Science Board has a responsibility to be concerned about the health of science research in our nation,” said Ray Bowen, a member of the board that oversees the National Science Foundation. “If you look at the long-term impact of diminished funding, it’s something policy makers should be concerned about.”

Although Idaho’s cut was in the top 20, it has continued to bring in more funding than most research universities in the country. UI spent nearly $100 million on research in 2011 and ranked 18th in the nation for spending per student in 2010.

“We’ve had fairly substantial growth in the last four years,” said John McIver, vice president of Research and Economic Development at UI.

McIver credits the growth to faculty members who have worked increasingly harder to bring in funding.

“UI has very good faculty members and we’ve hired some over the past couple years that are bringing in external funding,” McIver said.

Faculty needing to fund research have looked increasingly to federal resources, said Paul Gessler, a faculty member who conducts research into climate change.

“Most of the dollars tend to be from federal grant programs as opposed to relying much on state grant funding,” he said. “It’s had a big impact on our university, and it’s been a major challenge because we’re attempting to maintain a high productivity research university.”

Only 23 percent of the university’s research funding was provided by the state in the 2011 fiscal year, while more than half came from federal funding.

In addition, faculty are having to spend more time seeking out grants, which leaves less time for their research. No research projects have been canceled due to lack of funding yet, but they have seen some delays.

Cuts to public research universities especially concern members of the NSB because of the effect it will have on the future economy.

“They’re losing opportunities for students; they can’t recruit the same number of graduate students or Ph.D. students, who create economic development,” Bowen said. “Less research means less development economically.”

Bowen said he was also concerned about public universities’ competitiveness with private universities, calling the state-funding dependence an “Achilles heel.”

“If it extends too long the universities will be diminished, and it will take a long time to come back,” he said.

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