U-M exceeds $1 billion in annual research spending

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Research spending at U-M in 2008-09 exceeded $1 billion for the first time, a milestone that highlights the university's role as an economic resource benefiting the entire state.

In the midst of the most severe recession since the Great Depression, research spending at the university rose 9.4 percent over the previous fiscal year, totaling $1.02 billion. The federal government provided 64.4 percent of the funds, and federal research spending at the U-M rose 7.1 percent over 2007-08.

"It's an enormous milestone, and the fact that it's happening in the midst of this recession is all the more important," says Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest.

"We're growing stronger at a time when this region needs us most," Forrest says. "This university is providing the ideas that will create new businesses in our state, as well as the skilled workforce needed for the new industries that will rebuild and transform Michigan's economy."

Over the last five years, the university has launched 49 startups. More than 70 percent of those new businesses are located in Michigan. In Fiscal Year 2009, which ended June 30, U-M researchers disclosed 350 new discoveries, says Ken Nisbet, director of the Office of Technology Transfer.

"The continued growth of our world-class research program leads to life-changing discoveries that benefit the general public," Nisbet says. "Working with our business and entrepreneurial partners, we'll continue to grow much-needed jobs for our state."

Despite the recession, research funding from the university's industry partners rose 1 percent last fiscal year to $43.3 million, "truly a remarkable accomplishment, given the circumstances," Forrest says.

About $130,000 of the $1.02 billion came from federal stimulus-package awards. U-M researchers have been awarded more than $90 million in stimulus grants so far, but the bulk of those funds will be spent in the current and next fiscal years.

Stimulus awards will boost the U-M research effort in the current fiscal year, but a slowdown in federal research funding is expected to follow, Forrest says. To maintain vigorous growth in the future, the university will rely increasingly on research to be conducted at the North Campus Research Complex, the 30-building, 174-acre former Pfizer pharmaceutical research facility purchased in June.

"I think we can maintain a very significant growth rate — beyond many of our competitors — if we use the interdisciplinary possibilities that are opened up through the use of the NCRC," Forrest says.

U-M consistently ranks among the nation's top five research universities, based on R&D expenditure statistics compiled by the National Science Foundation. Johns Hopkins University passed the $1 billion milestone several years ago, and Forrest says he expects "a couple of other universities" to exceed $1 billion for FY 2009.

The National Institutes of Health provides more research funds to the university than any other federal agency. In FY 2009 NIH spending rose 7.2 percent to $421.5 million, accounting for 41.5 percent of the U-M's total research expenditures. Some of the larger NIH grants to the Medical School are funding studies of new anti-cancer drugs, brain tumors, heart disease, prostate cancer, neuropsychiatric disorders, Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, hearing loss and infant heart transplants.

Among other federal agencies, National Science Foundation spending rose 3.8 percent to $67.3 million in FY 2009; Department of Defense funding increased 8.4 percent to $64.4 million; and Department of Energy funding grew 24.4 percent to $21.7 million.

"The quality of the faculty we have here, along with the depth and breadth of the expertise at this university, are the two main reasons we continue to do so well" at garnering federal research funds, says Dennis Cebulski, assistant director of the Division of Research Development and Administration.

Cebulski notes that the FY 2009 numbers include an accounting change that adds $44.2 million to the U-M research-spending total. For the first time, research funds from a physician's group called the U-M Faculty Group Practice were included in the annual total.

FY 2008 research-expenditure numbers were revised to include $53 million from Faculty Group Practice funds as well. The revised research-spending total for FY 2008 is $929 million.

Spending of research funds provided by the state of Michigan and local Michigan authorities declined 10.6 percent to $4.6 million.