Sponsored research tops $300 million
Grants and contracts attract best scientists and students, boost local economy
By Dan Heuchert
For the first time, U.Va. researchers topped $300 million in grants and contracts during the 2004-2005 fiscal year, a milestone in the University’s drive to upgrade its research enterprise.
When the final numbers are tallied, the total amount of research support could reach as high as $313 million, according to the Office of Sponsored Programs.
Those numbers demonstrate U.Va.’s commitment to scholarship, said Dr. R. Ariel Gomez, vice president for research and graduate studies.
“The University has made substantial investments in research, and we have plans for the short- and long-term future that involve the retention of our best faculty, attracting outstanding internationally recognized scientists and the best students, coupled with the construction of the most modern research facilities available today and the upgrade of our existing ones,” Gomez said.
“Passing the $300 million mark, I hope, is a preamble for more and better things to come. In the end, we would like U.Va. to be one of the main places where major scientific discoveries occur and where most of the best and brightest students thrive.”
David J. Hudson, associate vice president for research and graduate studies, acknowledges that the $300 million milestone is somewhat arbitrary, and still lags behind many of the University’s peers. But for an institution traditionally renowned for its emphasis on the humanities and undergraduate instruction, “That’s a substantial achievement for a handful of reasons,” he said.
For one, it is the latest in a succession of years of healthy growth, marking an approximately 5.7 percent increase over the prior year — which itself was a 6.7 percent increase over the 2002-2003 fiscal year.
It also continues the overall growth “since we began keeping good numbers,” despite vicissitudes in federal funding levels, Hudson said. U.Va. only surpassed the $150 million level in 1996-1997 and eclipsed $200 million just five years ago.
And, with some 31 jobs created for every $1 million in grants received, $313 million in support would account for more than 9,700 jobs in the local economy, he noted. Typically, about 60 percent of grants go toward personnel expenses at U.Va.
“This is not gold-plating something and sending it off into space,” Hudson said. “We’re putting people to work at the bench doing experiments.”
No single factor fuels the University’s growth, he said. Rather, the progress represents the accumulation of many factors.
About 70 percent of the total comes from federal sources, with the balance from state and foundation support. The presence of the School of Medicine brings in big-ticket grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, which account for more than $150 million of this year’s total.
“We’re not a one-trick pony, but our futures are very tied to NIH,” Hudson noted.
Total NIH grants to U.Va. investigators rose by about 6 percent, he said, despite a “flattening out” of the agencies’ budgets over the past two years.
It is unclear how the rise in grants and contracts is affecting U.Va.’s standing relative to other universities. The most authoritative rankings traditionally have come from the National Academy of Sciences, but they only come out every 10 years, and already are overdue, Hudson said.
The National Science Foundation recently released its latest annual rankings, based upon 2002-2003 research spending — a slightly different accounting measure than the University uses. In those rankings, U.Va. rose from 69th to 67th nationally.