NU slips two spots in survey of federal science funds

Jodi Genshaft

Despite a concerted effort by administrators to steer Northwestern toward becoming a pre-eminent research institute, NU fell two spots to No. 32 among colleges and universities in the most recent National Science Foundation survey of federal science and research funding, released in late February.

NU actually received 7 percent more money in fiscal 2000 than in 1999, bringing in $160.8 million, up from $149.6 million. But its ranking dropped, and that trend may continue, said Lydia Villa-Komaroff, NU’s vice president for research.

Villa-Komaroff said NU’s federal funding increased again in fiscal 2001, which ended Sept. 30, 2001. But she said NU could fall again in comparison to other schools.

According to NU’s 2001 annual report, the university received $280.7 million in research funding, including $168.3 million from NSF and the Department of Health and Human Services.

These rankings are not necessarily indicative of NU’s research stature, Villa-Komaroff said. NU has a much smaller faculty base than many schools ranked above the university, so if the rankings were based on per-faculty funding, NU would rise in the rankings.

Johns Hopkins University topped the list with $933.2 million in federal support in fiscal 2000.

Four Big Ten schools – University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania State University – ranked in the top 20. University of Illinois and Ohio State University also ranked above NU.

Villa-Komaroff said funding is only one measure of NU’s research success. Impact of research, placement of graduate students and awards given to faculty and students are other indicators.

The university’s research space per faculty is below the national average, limiting faculty hiring and research, Villa-Komaroff said.

“Our faculty … can’t expand activities if they are limited by space,” Villa-Komaroff said.

NU has raised significant funding through Campaign Northwestern for the university’s research infrastructure.

“High-quality research space has been limiting at Northwestern, and the new space will make possible significant increases in research activity,” said Daniel Linzer, who will become Weinberg dean in July. “We are among the very top institutions in nanoscience and structural biology, two areas which require enormous infrastructure commitments.”

NU is erecting a life sciences building and a nanotechnology building on the Evanston campus in connection with the campaign.

Feinberg School of Medicine brings in more than half of the university’s total funding. The school will recover research space in the former Dental School building on the Chicago Campus. The Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center also will provide 200,000 square feet of laboratory space downtown when it is finished in 2004.

“A switch has been thrown here for expansion,” said Jonathan Leis, Feinberg’s executive associate dean for research.

Leis said the loss of an $8 million pediatric cancer grant shared by Feinberg and Children’s Memorial Hospital contributed to the lower NSF ranking.

National Institutes of Health, the federal government’s primary biomedical research agency, also underreported Feinberg’s research contracts, Leis said. NIH officials told administrators that the agency had problems with its computer systems and reporting procedures, Leis said. Some federal grants were reported under individual research centers instead of the university.

In 2000, federal agencies delivered $19.9 billion in science and engineering support to colleges and universities, a 10 percent increase from the previous year. Health and Human Services provided 57 percent of all federal science funding.

At NU, $111.1 million came from this department, making up nearly 70 percent of the university’s total science federal funding. NIH also funds basic research in the life sciences, especially in biochemistry and neurobiology.