Research spending across GW beats expectations

Research expenditures increased more than officials expected this past year, even after last year’s federal budget sequester threatened funding nationwide.

Provost Steven Lerman said the University had expected research expenditures, which covers research projects across GW, to increase by 6 to 9 percent, but it actually grew by about 11 percent.

“The notion of having a double digit increase at a time when the national picture is really going the other way I think is pretty remarkable,” Lerman said at the Faculty Assembly last week.

Faculty members have felt more pressure to secure federally funded projects, as well as research sponsored by corporations and foundations, as GW looks to up its research profile while balancing its other financial commitments.

Federally funded research totaled $115 million the year before, which was a $1 million drop from the previous year. Total expenditures on externally funded research at GW in 2012 reached $162.9 million, a 7.2 percent increase from 2011.

Matt Hourihan, director of the Research and Development Budget and Policy Program for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said federal funding nationwide is returning to normal levels after last year’s sequester cuts. Experts had warned that the sequester, which cut funding for major federal research foundations like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, would have a longer-term impact.

“The funding for scientific agencies generally increased,” he said. “I think recovery was inevitable.”

Hourihan said federal funding for research overall has declined for the past few years, and that he does not anticipate research dollars increasing beyond pre-sequester levels.

The sequester had little effect on GW’s research projects last year because officials provided “bridging funds” to faculty and staff who would have otherwise lost funding.

The NSF awarded about $14.5 million to researchers at GW during the 2014 fiscal year, an increase of about $6 million from the previous year.

Federal funding for research has become more difficult to secure over the past few years, with the amount of money in the federal budget dedicated to institutions that award grants steadily decreasing since 2009.

Funding to GW from the NIH and the NSF, which both receive money from the federal government, typically fluctuates from year to year, but not by as large of a percentage as seen in overall research funding this year.

“One year, things went down and then bounced back, and maybe for that short time there’s an increase in research and development,” Hourihan said. “I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of additional increased support funding from universities and other parties because we’re back to where we were.”

Charles Garris, the chair of the executive committee of the Faculty Senate, said the addition of newer, younger faculty likely contributed to the increase in funds.

“We have hired a lot of new faculty and these faculty are working hard, writing proposals,” he said. “I believe the research in the University is increasing due to their efforts.”

The School of Engineering and Applied Science, where Garris teaches, has hired about 50 faculty members since 2008, many of whom came from top-tier research institutions like Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Shahram Majidi, who recently came to GW from the University of Minnesota, said the amenities that GW and GW Hospital offer, like access to a diverse range of patients and a robust grant writing staff, can help win over large foundations.

GW’s Office of Sponsored Projects Administration assists faculty in submitting grant proposals to federal agencies and other public and private sources of funding.

Majidi added that he moved to GW because of the University’s location – near the NIH and other sources of federal grants.

“Being in the vicinity of the NIH and the diversity of patients and facilities all provide research opportunities to design different studies and successfully manage them,” he said.

This post was updated to reflect the following corrections:
Though Provost Steven Lerman said at the Faculty Assembly meeting that “sponsored research” had increased, research expenditures had actually increased. The Hatchet incorrectly reported that OSPA assists faculty in writing grant proposals. The principal investigator is responsible for writing the proposal. We regret this error.

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