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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Rising tide of research

January 26, 2010

Flasks in a research lab.

As University research expenditures rise, so too do discoveries, employment, and opportunities for students.

Photo: Patrick O'Leary

The U had a growth spurt in 2008

By Deane Morrison

The University of Minnesota has long been hailed as a major economic engine for the state.

That engine runs on research, and its horsepower is growing.

In the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s latest report on research expenditures by universities, the U posted a 9.5 percent increase from 2007 to 2008. That beat out all the others in the top 20 tracked by NSF, including private institutions.

The University remained in ninth position among public universities, but sliced away at the gap between it and eighth-ranked Penn State. The U also has posted a 30 percent increase in research expenditures since 2004, the third-highest growth in research volume among the 12 public institutions in the NSF top 20.

A commercial success

The U is also reaping higher revenues from the commercialization of technology its researchers have developed. Revenues in FY 2009 rose from $86.9 million to $95.2 million. Most of that is due to royalties from the sale of the anti-HIV drug Ziagen, marketed by GlaxoSmithKline; other revenues rose from $7.9 million to $8.7 million.

A crucial investment

When universities spend money on research, they create knowledge, apply knowledge to solving society's problems, and teach the next generation how to continue the journey.

All these lead to economic growth. On average, 32 jobs are created in Minnesota for each $1 million in research funding at the University, according to the U's Office of the Vice President for Research. By that formula, the U's $683 million in research expenditures in 2008 translates to 21,850 jobs.

A reliable yardstick

The NSF data are for R&D expenditures in science and engineering, but they closely reflect overall research expenditures, which include arts and humanities funding. The University uses the R&D data as its primary yardstick in tracking its rise through the ranks of U.S. universities because research is central to its mission and the numbers are free of subjective judgments.

"Research expenditures are a clear indicator of the quality and competitiveness of an institution's research enterprise," says R. Timothy Mulcahy, the University's vice president for research.

Also, he says, cuts in state funding to the University have been closely followed by declines in the U's research productivity. State funding plays a critical role in attracting and keeping the high-caliber faculty who form the backbone of the economic engine.

The University has set its sights on cracking the ranks of the top three public research universities. The gap in research expenditures between the U and number three—since 2005, UCLA and Michigan have traded the spot—shrank from $237 million to $193 million between 2005 and 2008. And the U narrowed the gap with Penn State from $49 million to $18 million between 2006 and 2008.

Early beneficiaries: students

Whether bound for research-heavy careers or not, students reap rich rewards from attending an institution where research takes center stage.

"University-level teaching that is not grounded in research quickly becomes stale, and with an ever-accelerating rate of change in all disciplines it is absolutely critical that students be exposed to and learn from researchers who are actively engaged in expanding the frontiers of knowledge," says Mulcahy.

"This environment also offers numerous opportunities to students to actually participate in research, providing them with critical training in rational thinking … scientific reasoning …  and many other benefits, all foundations for effective lifelong learning."



A pdf of the latest annual report on University research is available from the Office of the Vice President for Research Web site.