Kansas government and higher education officials should never underestimate the importance of attracting federal dollars to support research at the state’s largest public universities.
Last year was a good one for Kansas University when it came to federal research support. The $171 million in federal funds KU received moved it up to 38th among the nation’s public research universities and to 75th among all universities. The only Big 12 university with a higher ranking is the much-larger University of Texas, which was No. 30. Kansas State University ranked 132nd overall and reported about $106 million in federal research grants during the last fiscal year.
Commenting on the rankings compiled by the National Science Foundation, Steve Warren, vice chancellor for research and graduate studies at KU, said, “Research is never about the money, but objective rankings such as this reflect well on KU researchers at all campuses.”
Warren is right that the most important aspect of the research being done at state universities is the discoveries and advances they provide to our society. Nonetheless, the money does matter. It pays the salaries of professors and graduate students who are conducting that research and helps attract other faculty and students who want to join in that or similar efforts. The ability of universities to continue to attract federal funds also is an important endorsement of the quality of the research they are doing.
The ongoing ability to attract federal grants is of some concern for university officials because of across-the-board budget cuts triggered by federal sequestration. KU officials say the pipeline for federal grants is drying up and they are stepping up their efforts to attract industry and foundation support for research.
While it’s good to seek new funding sources, it’s also important for Kansans and all Americans to communicate with their federal representatives about the importance of funding research at universities across the nation. While industry and foundation support is important, there are many research projects that are unlikely to attract grants from non-government sources.
The work being done by academic researchers across America has been, and will continue to be, vital to the future of our nation and the world.