Kevin Boatright
Office of Research

KU moves up in national research ranking, though ongoing federal cuts pose challenges

Fri, 12/13/2013

LAWRENCE – The annual National Science Foundation (NSF) survey of federally funded university research expenditures placed the University of Kansas 38th last year among national public research universities. This was up one place from 2011 and up 17 places since 1996.

KU expenditures at all campuses exceeded $171 million in this specific category in 2012, up from $162.7 million in 2011. The NSF survey included 655 public and private institutions. “National public research universities” is a sub-group of the entire list. It includes comprehensive universities such as KU but excludes stand-alone medical research centers.

Among all institutions on the survey, KU ranked 72nd, up from 75th in 2011. This places KU second among the Big 12 universities, below the University of Texas at Austin (30) and above the University of Oklahoma (86). Other institutions in the region ranked by NSF include Kansas State University (132), Wichita State University (229), Missouri-Kansas City (234), Haskell Indian Nations University (431) and Pittsburg State University (552).

“Research is never about the money,” said Steve Warren, vice chancellor for research and graduate studies, “but objective rankings such as this reflect well on KU researchers at all campuses.” 

He noted that KU is expanding and diversifying its strong funding base. It is developing large multidisciplinary federal grants while cultivating greater industry and foundation support. KU also is investing in the future by creating 64 faculty positions — including 12 prestigious Foundation Professorships – focused on research themes laid out in KU’s Bold Aspirations strategic plan.

While federally funded research expenditures increased at KU in 2012, they decreased for 60 percent of the institutions above KU on the list. "Overall," Warren said, “federally funded university research expenditures fell by $640 million in 2012, and that didn’t yet reflect the federal budget sequester that began in March. That’s an ominous sign for every research university in the country, since the federal government is by far the largest single source of university research funding.” 

At KU in 2012, 87 percent of all research funding came from the federal government.

A survey released in November by associations representing nearly 300 major universities nationwide showed that after seven months of the sequester, 70 percent of respondents were already experiencing delays in research projects, 70 percent had experienced reductions in the number of new research grants, and 58 percent were seeing negative effects on research-related personnel. That included reductions in the number of student workers and layoffs of permanent staff.

The sequester will remain in effect for another eight years unless Congress acts to end or modify the law’s automatic spending cuts. Warren said this week’s House-Senate budget agreement is an important first step in that direction. 

Warren said KU is starting to see effects from the sequester in its research budget forecasts for the next two years. Of equal concern, he said, is “the U.S. now lags many countries in government funding for research as a share of gross domestic product. That situation will only get worse unless Congress acts to reverse the trend.”

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