Stimulating Duke

November 30, 2009

All is not grim for Duke and other research universities in the current financial climate. In February 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), commonly called the stimulus package, resulting in the investment of $15 billion in activities that promote job growth and retention and scientific advancement.

The National Institutes of Health, which funds biomedical research, and the National Science Foundation, which supports basic research in science and engineering, are the biggest beneficiaries—meaning that university-based research will benefit in turn.

As of early October, Duke had been awarded about $147 million in stimulus money, $117 toward the medical center and $30 million for other parts of the university, including biology, chemistry, electrical engineering, psychology and neuroscience, mathematics, computer science, economics, environmental studies, sociology, and public policy. University officials estimated that research support worth another $18.7 million was on track for approval. Much of the new funding reaches back to proposals submitted previously that favorably impressed review panels but that—because of limited budgets—couldn't be approved. The new funding is allowing the university to keep or add more than 100 positions, ranging from work-study undergraduates to post-doctorates.

James Siedow, vice provost for research, points out that the good news is tempered by a few sobering facts. For one thing, federal research funding has held flat, or when adjusted for inflation, dropped off in recent years—even as the cost of research in the medical sciences and the number of researchers pursuing grants have increased steadily. So even with the new largesse, organizations like the NIH and NSF are playing catch-up.

And while the temporary windfall is welcomed, there's no guarantee that federal research budgets will grow, or even be sustained, into the future, particularly with a soaring national deficit.