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University of Minnesota releases 2013 research report, prepares push beyond national trend of flat growth

Friday, February 14, 2014

The University of Minnesota released its annual State of Research report today and also announced a new five-year plan to advance the U’s research enterprise to keep the university competitive as federal support fluctuates, as well as maintain research leadership in solving some of the world’s largest challenges. While the report shows a flat growth trend from 2009 to 2013 in all funding sectors, the U maintained its high ranking among the top 10 research institutions and showed promising growth in some key areas such as technology commercialization and public-private partnerships.

The national picture of flattening award funding for research, a result of erratic government policies and long-term federal disinvestment in research, threatens to become the "new normal" for research institutions across the U.S. Despite this troubling trend, the U of M sustained its ranking among an elite group of research institutions in fiscal 2013, receiving the third highest award amount in the Big 10, having successfully competed for more than $693 million in sponsored research funding.

Through its technology commercialization efforts, the university signed 55 new sponsored research agreements with industry partners and spun off a record number 14 startup companies, up from just two in fiscal 2008. In addition, new mechanisms to increase industry partnerships, such as the expanded Minnesota Innovation Partnerships, or MN-IP, have helped bolster the U’s research portfolio. While the current research environment remains strong, Dr. Brian Herman, the U’s vice president for research, said the university needs to innovate and advance the research mission beyond the constraints posed by the flat-growth trajectory of federal funding.

"The university continues to be a driving force for innovation and discovery," Herman said. "However, we must not allow ourselves to define success only through the lens of federal funding.  The measure of success lies in making efficient use of our resources, growing meaningful and robust partnerships at the University and with non-University organizations to create new knowledge, and establishing the U as a leader and convener of these new ideas in order to solve the looming and significant challenges of the future."

The strategic plan, Five Years Forward through Collective Inspiration and Discovery, focuses on a central vision of "bringing people together in new ways, fostering discovery and making our world a better place." Key themes of the plan include enhancing research excellence, advancing transdisciplinary partnerships, accelerating transfer of knowledge for the public good and promoting a culture of serendipity.

To implement the vision and objectives of the strategic plan, the university will focus on strengthening ties between industry, academia and government to ensure that the university continues to hold a significant role in the state’s economic, social and physical infrastructure. While specific action plans are still being developed, some of the planned activities include creating a new Office of University Economic Development and new investments in research infrastructure. At the same time, the Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy (MnDRIVE) initiative, an $18 million annually recurring award from the Minnesota Legislature, will provide ongoing support for the U in its efforts to tackle the challenges of the future, strengthen the economy and advance research.

"By embracing change and building upon the university’s existing strengths, we can unlock the tremendous potential to refine and transform our research enterprise in a way that will advance research, increase our competitive advantage nationally and internationally, and generate new knowledge and discoveries to make our world a better place," Herman said.

Learn more about the 2013 Research Report.

Learn more about the strategic plan, Five Years Forward.

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