Federal research subsidies increase by $10 million

Media Credit: Keegan Mullen | Hatchet Photographer

Leo Chalupa, the vice president for research, said at a Faculty Senate meeting last week that GW's federal research subsidies have increased by about $10 million in the past decade.

Updated: Feb. 18, 2017 at 12:01 p.m.

The federal government has given about $10 million more in research subsidies to GW than they did a decade ago, GW’s top research official said.

Leo Chalupa, the vice president for research, said at a Faculty Senate meeting Friday that more research and an increased rate of money the federal government gives to the University led to an increase in research revenue last fiscal year. Chalupa said the growth shows that the University is prioritizing research, and research administrators at universities across the country have seen similar trends.

Those federal subsidies have increased from around $16 million in 2006 to about $25 million in fiscal year 2016, Chalupa said at the meeting.

“Research is bringing in money to the University,” Chalupa said in an interview. “Not billions of dollars, but once upon a time, it was nothing.”

When faculty do research, they use the institution’s infrastructure and utilities, racking up costs like electricity bills and clerical assistants’ pay. The federal government gives a certain percentage of money to institutions to cover those costs – called indirect cost recoveries.

These indirect cost recoveries are divided among the dean’s office, the professor doing research and his or her department. Though the federal government doesn’t cover all the overhead costs, experts said that the rates of reimbursement have been increasing at institutions across the country because the indirect costs caused by research are rising.

Chalupa said about 44 percent of research at GW does not receive federal subsidies, meaning that about 56 percent of those researchers are eligible to earn indirect cost recoveries.

Different researchers receive different subsidy rates, depending on the kind of work they’re doing and which resources they use in their research. GW’s effective indirect cost rate is 18.6 percent, according to Chalupa’s presentation.

Even as federal funding fluctuates, with researchers sharing concerns over an increasingly shrinking grant pool, Chalupa said GW’s research office has found ways around those challenges. In 2015, Chalupa said his office would shift to helping professors and researchers earn funding from international resources and embedded staffers in individual schools to support researchers and bring in more grants in 2014.

Last year, the engineering school brought in $3 million of federal subsidies – more than the previous four fiscal years. And this past fall, researchers earned an all-time high amount of funding after receiving more than $88 million in grants over a three-month period.

Chalupa said he has recently added resources, like grants and conferences for the humanities, which will help to increase research efforts in the schools. He said the department had to cut some staff during campus-wide budget cuts but did not touch research investments.

Before University President Steven Knapp arrived in 2006, GW was ranked No. 114 on the National Science Foundation’s List of institutions with federal funding, with about $92 million in expenditures. In fiscal year 2015, the University moved up to No. 83 with $139 million in federal funding expenditures.

GW’s funding drastically increased from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2014, Chalupa said. The average university’s funding decreased by 3.2 percent but GW’s increased by 17 percent, he said.

“Now is this typical? No,” Chalupa said. “But when you are in science, you show slides, you show your best data and this is my best data.”

In fiscal year 2015, GW ranked No. 90 on the National Science Foundation’s ranking of research and development expenditures with a total of $241.1 million in expenditures. The National Institutes of Health granted GW 83 awards totaling $103,671,727 in funding in fiscal year 2016, according to NIH documents.

Matthew Kay, an associate professor and the chair for research and graduate affairs, said GW’s indirect costs were still significantly lower than most universities.

GW has made substantial investments in upgrading the research infrastructure to improve opportunities for researchers, Kay said.

“In my mind, the increase is justified,” Kay said. “For the most part, funding agencies are willing to pay the extra cost because the quality of our work at GW is greatly enhanced by the new infrastructure.”

Experts say this rise in subsidies is considerable, but still may not be enough to cover the rising institutional costs of doing research.

Stephanie Gray, the assistant vice president of research at the University of Florida, said GW needs to keep momentum up to continue growing the University’s research portfolio.

“We work with our faculty, we work with our sponsors directly, we engage the federal government to try to increase understanding of the value university research can provide,” she said.

Gray said federal funding nationally is not keeping pace with the increases in indirect costs. Although universities are prioritizing research, they still face issues with funding and the federal budget, she said.

“It’s two-fold: The research budgets aren’t going up at all anyway and they’re not keeping pace with inflation nor are the research rates recoveries that the university is incurring,” Gray said.

Suzanne Rivera, the vice president for research at Case Western Reserve University, said facilities and administrative costs are greater than the recovery rate that the government approves, so a university and the federal funding agencies share costs. But funding in recent years has made it difficult for researchers to get grants, meaning fewer of those overhead costs are covered, Rivera said.

“All U.S. universities are feeling the effects of a much more competitive funding climate,” Rivera said.

Many universities have recently increased their recovery rates, like the University of California at Berkeley. Pat Schlesinger, the interim associate vice chancellor of research at UC Berkeley, said an increase in indirect cost recoveries can come from large investments, like GW’s Science and Engineering Hall.

“The more expensive your facilities get compared to the amount of research you have, the more that [indirect cost] rate will go up,” Schlesinger said.

This post was updated to reflect the following corrections:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that NSF expenditures totaled $241,117 when they actually came to a total of $241.1 million. The Hatchet also incorrectly reported that 44 percent of research expenditures by the federal government are ineligible to receive indirect cost recoveries when it was 44 percent of all research expenditures. We regret these errors.

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