Kansas University is gaining ground in national rankings for the amount of federally funded research it conducts, but officials are still concerned about the long-term impact that federal sequestration budget cuts could have on the future of academic and scientific research.
“The U.S. now lags many countries in government funding for research as a share of gross domestic product,” said Steve Warren, vice chancellor for research and graduate studies at KU. “That situation will only get worse unless Congress acts to reverse the trend.”
During fiscal year 2012, federal research expenditures at KU exceeded $171 million, placing it 38th among public universities in the United States, and 72nd among all universities.
In 2011, KU ranked 39th and 75th in those categories respectively.
The rankings are based on a survey by the National Science Foundation, which tracks all federal research dollars spent each year.
The 2012 rankings place KU second among Big 12 universities, below the University of Texas, which ranked 30th. Kansas State University placed 132nd. Other area universities in the survey included Wichita State University, at 229th; the University of Missouri-Kansas City, at 234th; Haskell Indian Nations University, at 431st; and Pittsburg State University, at 552nd.
Kevin Boatright, a spokesman in the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, noted that federal dollars fund a wide variety of research projects at KU, ranging from medical research to education and the humanities.
In October 2012, KU was awarded the largest federal research grant in the school's history, $24.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education for a five-year project at the SWIFT Center helping schools implement new strategies for teaching special education students in the same setting with regular students.
Grants from the National Institutes of Health are funding research at KU into the molecular analysis of disease pathways, as well as speedier ways to make new medical treatments available to patients.
“Research is never about the money,” Warren said, “but objective rankings such as this reflect well on KU researchers at all campuses.”
Although the NIH survey only included federal research expenditures, Warren noted that KU is working to expand its funding base by cultivating more industry and foundation support.
Still, federal grants accounted for 87 percent of all research funding at KU during 2012.
During 2013, however, federal research grants have become scarce because of across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, which went into effect March 1 after Congress and the White House failed to reach agreement on a budget package. Those cuts could remain in effect for another eight years unless a new agreement is reached.
“Our concern is that in the next year and the year after, the pipeline of grants is drying up,” Boatright said. “There are entire agencies saying we're not going to give any more grants because we don't know about our funding future. Others are giving fewer grants. And there are other grants that are not being renewed.”
Earlier this week, however, House and Senate negotiators appeared to reach a bipartisan agreement that reportedly would reduce or eliminate the sequestration cuts, but would still impose other, general funding cuts across many federal agencies that could have the same effect of reducing federal research funding.