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10 Reasons Our Research Enterprise is Thriving

Illustration of a lab with workers creating ideas

By Brian Herman

Last week, I presented the annual state of research report for the University of Minnesota to our Board of Regents.

And I had good news.

Despite increasing competition for federal awards and a persistently difficult funding climate, the university, in partnership with its faculty, students, research community and external stakeholders, saw growth in nearly all performance measures in FY2014. These results show a strong research enterprise that has sustained its high ranking among an elite group of public research institutions and is outperforming its peers in the Big Ten.

Here are the top ten highlights from the report:

1. Increasing Awards

University of Minnesota faculty and staff competed successfully for $741 million in externally sponsored research — a 6.8% increase from FY2013. In total, 4,700 awards were received, 337 more than last year. Increases were seen for all major funding sources — federal, state and private — and are reflective of our institution’s remarkably talented faculty and students who are indeed “Driven to Discover.”

2. Outperforming Our Peers

The American Association for the Advancement of Science reports FY13-14 budgets for federal R&D increased by 1.1% for the following agencies: DOD, DOE, HHS, NIH, NSF and USDA. While this increase is minimal, during the same period, the U of M increased its funding from these agencies by 2.4%. In other words, the U is doing twice as well as expected in competing for federal funds.

3. Partnerships and Collaborations

Funding from partnerships and collaborations between the U of M and other universities, businesses and community partners increased this fiscal year by $10.8 million (or 21.6%). This metric reflects national trends toward increased collaboration and the growing trend of large, multi-institutional projects and it underscores the importance of our research priority to advance transdisciplinary partnerships.

4. Accelerating Knowledge Transfer

The National Journal this year highlighted our Office for Technology Commercialization’s effectiveness in an article called, “This Urban Research University Is Also an Economic Powerhouse” and in it, describes how the university, OTC and our pioneering program initiatives have made it easier than ever for U of M inventions to make it to market and to make a difference in economic terms and in the lives of our citizens. In 2014, nearly all technology commercialization metrics show growth over the previous fiscal year and a record 15 startup companies were spun out.

5. Outstanding Innovators

On Dec. 11 we honored nearly 300 of the U’s top innovators at the Made in Minnesota: Celebrating University Inventors event. The event celebrated the growing and rich entrepreneurial landscape at the university and honored three U of M faculty recognized by their peers for their outstanding accomplishments.

6. MnDRIVE Research and Partnerships

We have made great progress on this landmark partnership in the first year. More than 75 external partners are supporting MnDRIVE research, 354 researchers are collaborating on 120 projects, 111 faculty, students and staff have been hired and 21 patents and licenses based on MnDRIVE discoveries have been submitted.

7. Strategic Investments

Throughout the year our strategic plan for research, Five Years Forward, has been taking root in the research community. Action plans for each of the cornerstones are nearly complete. To ensure that we invest in and support these plans, our office will reallocate 3% of our own operational funds to directly invest in these efforts. We will be announcing more about the 3% plan in the months to come, so stay tuned.

8. Return on Investment

The U’s total R&D expenditures for all campuses is $882 million. A portion of that is our institution’s $175 million investment of its own funds to finance research. Some of these funds support critical, internal grant programs, such as Grant-in-Aid and Minnesota Futures. Over the past five years, nearly $15 million has been awarded for 560 projects through Grant-in-Aid with an ROI for external funding of 1 to 6 – every $1 we invest through Grant-in-Aid yields us an average of $6 coming in to the U. For the Minnesota Futures program, large grants of approximately $250 thousand, the ROI is 1 to 7.

9. National Research Performance

The U of M, for the first time in its history, is part of a distinguished group of universities that rank in the top 25 on all nine performance measures that the Center for Measuring University Performance has determined gives a reasonable approximation of the institution’s research performance, accomplishments and strength. As the data show, we are moving in the right direction and making a difference.

10. High Rankings Among the Big Ten

Among member universities of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation — or the “Big Ten” — the U of M ranks third in externally sponsored research funding and saw an increase for 2014. While this is yet another indicator of strong performance, there are a number of other great institutions with whom we compete, so we must be careful not to rest on our laurels and continue to do everything we can to remain competitive.

Given our great showing this year, I see tremendous potential to continue to refine and transform our research enterprise in a way that will continue to create opportunities and advance new discoveries. By building upon the university’s existing strengths, nurturing a collaborative research environment, and working with public and private partners, we will advance research outcomes that increase our competitive advantage, nationally and internationally, and generate new knowledge and discoveries that, indeed, make our world a better place.

Gold block M

Contributing Writer

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