UROP Benefit Rates to FallBy Ramy A. Arnaout
Associate News Editor
Members of the faculty and staff are trying to ease the financial strain on the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program by reducing employee benefits rates on student funding, according to Provost Mark S. Wrighton.
Comptroller Phillip Keohan "plans to submit MIT's 1995 benefit package with a ŚUROP benefit category' that would include only the benefits that the students actually get: Social Security (when not registered), Medicare, and workman's compensation," according to a memoramdum to Wrighton from the UROP working group he formed to solve the funding crisis expected in the fall. "Phil estimates that the total benefit charge will be about 8%," it said, rather than the current rate of 43.5 percent.
Faculty and staff say the plan will likely succeed. While the rate reduction is not yet official, it is "official enough" for the provost to have announced it in his report on the status of UROP at the May 18 faculty meeting, said UROP Director Norma McGavern. "It's not something that there's a lot of doubt about," said McGavern, who is also a member of the working group.
Despite its likely success, a benefit rate of 8 percent will not be a cure-all for the UROP Office, McGavern said. "We knew it was likely to happen, but we didn't want to confuse people more than they were already confused," she said. "We gave our money away as if we knew we were getting more money. Even a difference of 30 percent more than we thought we were going to have was not enough" to avoid a crisis, she said. New government regulations have prompted the UROP Office to call this summer the most difficult funding period in its 25-year history. [See related story, page 7.]
Overhead temporarily falls
In a lesser development, the overhead rate on sponsored funds will also be lower than the presently projected 55 percent for this summer, McGavern said. In response to government overcollection on sponsored research as a whole in past years, this summer the overhead rate will be 52 percent, according to McGavern and the Office of Sponsored Research.
McGavern does not expect the rate drop to be a trend. "When a rate is set, it is set on the expected real cost of research," she said. Depending on next year's expected real costs, the rate could climb slightly above this year's levels; on average, however, it should remain constant at about 55 percent, she said.
UROP Śinadvertantly caught'
The crisis stems from revised federal guidelines, effective June 1, that treat UROP like a research program rather than an educational program, McGavern said. As a result, UROP funds will now accrue overhead and employee benefit costs. The distinction raises costs about 8 percent on UROP Office funds and about 64.2 percenton sponsored research funds.
"UROP is inadvertantly caught in these revisions," McGavern said. "UROP was by no means targeted or single out.
"If you look at the language of the document, you would be hard pressed to fit that language to UROP - it's very complicated language," she said. "In the document, UROP looks like a research project," rather than an education project, she said.
However, the problem is not so easily solved, McGavern said. "Just because something is inadvertantly caught, it's not like saying [to the government], Śexcuse me, please, could you please move your foot?' It's not that easy," she said.