U-M Research Spending Tops $1.3 Billion, More Collaborations Planned

The University of Michigan today announced that it spent more than $1.3 billion on research last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2014.

That amount was slightly less than the nearly $1.4 billion in research spending the previous year, but it keeps U-M among the top-spending public universities in the nation when it comes to research. (U-M didn’t offer a specific overall ranking for fiscal 2014, but it ranked second the previous year behind Johns Hopkins University, according to the latest available data from the National Science Foundation.)

Despite the fact that the amount of money per research contract declined, the total number of contracts awarded to U-M last fiscal year rose by 4.1 percent. To help bolster that pipeline, university faculty increased their number of research proposal submissions by nearly 2.7 percent, the result of a concerted effort on the part of university administrators to get its professors more involved in research that ideally can be commercialized at some point.

The university did get a boost from two governmental sources: The U.S. Department of Defense, which increased its research funding by $3.2 million, and NASA, which added $16 million as part of a new program to develop a weather-predicting satellite system.

David Lampe, executive director of strategic communications for U-M’s Office of Research, said the slight decline in the university’s research spending in fiscal 2014 is due in part to the growing difficulty with obtaining federal government funding. “It is what it is,” Lampe said. “The federal government still funds well over half the research at U-M. We’ve worked very hard to be more competitive; now we have to work harder to sustain that.”

One strategy the university has pursued is to lean on the private sector to help fund research that industry also deems important. Lampe points to U-M’s Mobility Transformation Center—a multi-million-dollar initiative to create an automated vehicle test environment with more than a dozen corporate and government partners—as a good example of what that kind of collaboration can look like.

“It’s a truly novel project involving academia, government, and industry,” Lampe said. “It’s very big in scale and extremely translational.”

In fact, Lampe said the mobility center is regarded by U-M as a model for tackling major issues with support from the private sector and government. “In 2015, we’d like to see what we can do in other areas with big societal challenges,” he added.

Lampe said other research goals for U-M in 2015 are stronger outreach to the private sector, more clinical trials, and strengthening its relationship with philanthropic foundations. Internally, the university is working to streamline its research proposal submission process to make it more efficient, Lampe said.

“It’s important to note that we remain one of the strongest research institutions in the world, and we’re going to work hard to stay there,” Lampe said. (Click here to read U-M’s full annual report on research.)

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