Powers to lawmakers: increase support for research


Austin McKinney

UT President William Powers Jr appeals before a representative sub-committee at the John Reagan building early Friday morning.

Joshua Fechter

Restoring state funding cuts to UT may best be done through funding research projects at the University, President William Powers Jr. told Texas lawmakers Friday.

Powers told a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that increasing funds to the Texas Competitive Knowledge Fund, a state fund that supports university research projects, would benefit the University more than increasing state general revenue funds allocated to UT. 

Powers said it is more difficult to fund research because it does not always produce an immediate payoff, but research is important for the development of Texas’ economy.

“The research part is terribly important for the long-range health of the state,” Powers said.

Established in 2007, the Texas Competitive Knowledge Fund provides state support for university research projects at UT, UT-Dallas, Texas Tech University, Texas A&M University and the University of Houston.

Universities must spend $50 million toward research over a three-year period to become eligible for the fund, and they receive $1 from the state for every $10 they raise independently. 

The Legislature, which meets every two years, allocates its funds in two-year periods, or bienniums. In the 2010-11 biennium, the fund had a pot of $126.2 million, which was reduced to $93.5 million the following biennium. The House’s current budget proposal increases the fund to $100.2 million for the upcoming biennium.

Of the total fund, UT received $55.1 million in 2010-11 and $36.8 million in 2012-13. The House’s proposal would allocate $38.3 million for the 2014-15 biennium.

Powers addressed how the University is dealing with the decline of state general revenue funds. The House’s initial proposal would allocate $478.8 million to the University over the next two years. The proposal is $14 million less than the amount the University received during 2012 and 2013 and $93 million less than what the University received during 2010 and 2011.

Powers said UT responded to past funding decreases from the state by cutting $46 million annually from the University’s core budget.

“We found some areas that really were worth cutting, but we cut into some bone, too,” Powers said. “But, we did it in a very thoughtful way.”

The state bases the University’s funding on the total number of credit hours students enroll in, which is called formula funding. Powers said formula funding cannot make up for past budget cuts because enrollment is not growing enough to produce a significant increase.

In fall 2012, the University enrolled 52,186 students, a slight increase from the 51,112 enrolled in fall 2011 and 51,195 enrolled in fall 2010.

Powers said UT is the last in its peer group, which includes University of California-Berkeley and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, in terms of state support. He said increasing research funding at UT would help the University to stay competitive with its peer group.

“It’s going to take some funding, we are very efficient, but it’s going to take some funding to let us compete for those great scientists, great teachers and great graduate students so we are bringing the talent here to Texas,” Powers said.

Published on February 18, 2013 as "Boosting research to restore funding".