Changing Landscape for Research
By Marty Meehan

Marty Meehan Headshot

UMass has a three-fold mission of education, research and public service, and the manner in which it has been able to advance that mission should be a source of great pride for the citizens of the Commonwealth.

The research taking place on each of our campuses has the potential to cure disease and cleanse the environment. It provides an exciting learning environment for today’s students and tomorrow’s scientific stars. Research fuels the innovation economy, and in so doing creates the economic environment that keeps bright minds in the Commonwealth and attracts others to come. It is why UMass ranked 57th in Thomson Reuters inaugural rating of “The World’s Most Innovative Universities.”

With our five campuses spread throughout the state, UMass research sparks innovation and economic development in and around our campuses in Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell and Worcester. Each campus has research specialties that enhance and benefit the region and position the Commonwealth for future success.

Like many research universities—public and private—UMass has been forced to confront a challenging environment in recent years caused by the federal government’s decision to pull back on funding for university research since the recession of 2008 wreaked havoc on public-sector budgets at all levels.

Concerns about the outlook at the federal level prompted UMass to energetically look to other partners for the funding needed to fuel its burgeoning research enterprise. The good news is that state government and local industry—both recognizing the quality of UMass R&D and its economic-development importance—have stepped in to pick up the slack.

In its recent report, UMass documented a $26 million research-expenditure increase, with spending rising from $603 million in FY2014 to $629 million in FY2015. Of particular note is the UMass Medical School’s contribution of over $250 million.

Most of the $26 million increase—$19 million— was funded by grants we received from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the bulk of which was earmarked for the Institute of Applied Life Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

We received an additional $6.5 million from industry partners, including $3 million from Raytheon for the University of Massachusetts Lowell to create a research institute that will connect the next generation of innovators with established aerospace and defense experts.

This diversified funding base has served us well during these recent years and will hold us in good stead in the years ahead, particularly if research re-emerges as a priority at the federal level.

In pointing to the importance of seeking out—and finding—other funding partners, I do not mean to undermine the significance of federal research funding, as federal agencies continue to provide a significant portion of the funding for UMass research. And, there is ample reason to believe that the clouds may be parting and the long-term forecast may be getting much better given Congress’s recent decision to increase funding for the National Institutes for Health by a sizable $2 billion, the largest increase in more than a decade.

My hope is that this action launches us into a new era of bipartisan support for research at the federal level and that research universities across the nation will receive the funding they need to conduct the work that saves and improves lives and fuels the economy at the local, state and national level.

Investing in the creation of knowledge truly is the investment that always pays dividends. As president, I am more than proud when I see the research portfolios that have developed on each of our campuses and look at the far-reaching impact that UMass research has now and will have in the future.