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Research Funding Increases 4%

By Nomi Giszpenc
Staff Reporter

Congress recently approved a four percent increase in research and development funding for fiscal year 1997, bringing the funding level to $74 billion.

The Department of Defense received a 4.9 percent funding increase for research and development, and the National Institutes of Health received a 6.9 percent increase. In fact, every major funding agency except NASA and the Department of the Interior received increases in funding.

The DoD and the NIH, along with NASA, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation, are some of the major branches of the federal government that provide funds for research at MIT, said J. David Litster PhD '65, vice president for research and dean for graduate education.

Since the amount of research support obtained by MIT is determined by how many grant proposals get accepted, the impact of the recent increase in federal funding on MIT will not be clear until after the end of the fiscal year, Litster said.

Increase smaller after inflation

The increase is not likely to be significant, because the amount approved is not adjusted by inflation. Therefore, the real trend of federal money at MIT is "holding steady or experiencing a slight decrease," Litster said.

Federal monies totaled $242 million at MIT in fiscal year 1996, $245 million in 1995, and $241 million in 1994, he said. The trend is slightly down in current dollars.

Total sponsored research, of which around three-fourths is federally funded, hasn't changed much since the early 1980s.

"What's clear is that there is no growth," said Litster.

To compensate for the diminishing federal dollars, industry-sponsored research has been growing. It now accounts for about 17 percent of research support, said Dean of the Sloan School of Management Glen L. Urban.

The total amount of research support MIT currently has is around $350 million. Since federal support is expected to decrease by about $100 million, $20 to $30 million in industrial funding will be sought. Alternative sources, such as international sponsors, will be looked at to make up the difference, Litster said.

Council examines ties to industry

The provost formed a council on industrial relations last spring to look at the potential for building closer ties to industry, Urban said.

The relationship is probably necessary because "nobody knows where trends are going, but both the president and congress have predicted that federal non-defense research will drop 20 percent by 2002," Litster said. "If they balance the budget, I'm sure that will be the trend."

The provost's council has been gathering reaction and ideas over the past four months from faculty and students. They have been asking if enhanced relations are desirable, and how and if MIT should go forward with the changes, Urban said.

The council also interviewed 15 major CEOs. It hopes to continue the dialogue at MIT, and is "anxious to have any input from the community," Urban said. The council's recommendations and findings will probably be presented in the spring.

Urban emphasized that the purpose of the council is not purely financial. Rather, the goal of the council is to achieve quality research and education within the given financial constraints.

The provost's committee does not have a direct link to the presidential task force on student life and learning, which is looking at the shape that MIT will take over the next few decades. But the two committees do get coordinated through the Academic Council, Urban said.