Research is a public good

Universities should not have to rely on the private market for important and consistent research funding.

If the administration’s advertising efforts haven’t made it apparent, the University of Minnesota continues to be one of the nation’s best research institutions. The University released its 2013 research report last Friday, detailing the successes and failures in acquiring research funding.

According to the report, the University had a flat growth rate from 2009 to 2013, a trend that plagues universities across the nation.

The University’s press release about the report states that “the national picture of flattening award funding for research” is a result of “erratic government policies and long-term federal disinvestment in research.”

Despite the failure of Congress to properly invest in research, the University has maintained its status as an elite research institution. In the 2013 fiscal year, the University received the third-highest award amount for research in the Big Ten, receiving more than $693 million in sponsored research awards.

The University’s research arm was able to maintain its high status because of its growth in “technology commercialization and public-private partnerships.”

Growth in these areas is promising. The ability to receive research grants from the private sector will greatly improve University students’ job prospects after graduation. It also gives the University a certain degree of flexibility, continuing important research despite a shortsighted Congress.

However, research funding from the private sector is not a sustainable, long-term substitute for traditional federal investments. The University’s largest federal funding agency, the National Institutes of Health, suffered a $1.5 billion funding reduction in the 2013 fiscal year. There aren’t enough private investors willing to fill that gap.

Not every important research initiative will yield immediate monetary gains and have corporate backing, so public funding is necessary. University students and officials must continue to pressure Congress to maintain stable investments in research.