Committee on higher education discusses funding and research

Tiffany Hinman

At a monthly legislative meeting meant to deliberate the progress of statewide research programs, UT President William Powers Jr. urged the Texas House Committee on Higher Education to concentrate funding to established tier-one research institutions instead of universities vying for tier-one status. 

The committee also discussed whether programs are generating enough revenue to receive future funding. Both Powers and Texas A&M University President R. Bowen Loftin urged the committee to continue research funding for higher education institutions in order to generate more revenue. There are currently four universities in Texas classified as tier-one research universities — UT-Austin, Texas A&M University, Rice University and University of Houston — which generally means the school spends at least $45 million in research expenditures, among other criteria. 

In 2009, the Texas Legislature passed a bill setting up criteria for seven Texas universities to reach tier-one status, which would give them access to more state funding. The seven institutions — including UT System schools in El Paso, Dallas, Arlington and San Antonio — have still not reached the status of UT, A&M, UH and Rice.

“If you want good research coming out of our universities, then you have to fund it,” Powers said. “If you want to get something done correctly, spreading out your sources instead of investing in key players will accomplish nothing. If you don’t keep focus, the return of research will be diminished.”

Legislative and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board officials presented research concerning state-funding programs, finding that in 2011 two programs lost funding and distributed less money. Sarah Keyton, higher education manager for the Legislative Budget Board, said in 2011 funding for the Norman Hackerman Advanced Research Program — a program that encourages faculty and students to conduct basic research — was reduced by 94 percent, from $16 million to $1 million.

Keyton said in 2011 seven universities that were previously ineligible for the Texas Competitive Knowledge Fund met the necessary requirements, but only the University of Texas at Dallas received funding. A 2009 Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board report restricts program funding to schools who spend more than $50 million on research expenditures.

UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said UT has generated important findings through its research programs.

“This year, we have made breakthroughs in drug delivery for cancer, algae as an alternative fuel, low-cost diagnosis tools for developing countries and analysis that suggests that the chemicals that we are exposed to today may affect future generations,” Doolittle said. “Our researchers have also deciphered the meaning of an ancient Mayan calendar and made numerous discoveries about the nature of human behavior and educational best practices.”

Doolittle said the university receives research funding support from many sources, including federal grants, state funding and foundation support.

“Each of those sources is important to continuing this critical work of exploring new frontiers and expanding knowledge for the good of society,” Doolittle said. “Excellence in research is at the heart of what we do as a tier-one research university. It is a critical component to student success, as well as leading to discoveries that will create a better future for Texas, the nation and the world.”

Printed on Monday, October 8, 2012 as: Powers stresses funding for tier one universities