It's an unfortunate but widely known fact in the scientific community that researchers also have to be businessmen in order to secure funds. But getting a grant from the National Science Foundation became a little easier last week, allowing researchers to focus more of their efforts on science.
The foundation's governing board voted last Thursday to end the requirement for projects on which the NSF requests applications. Unsolicited proposals will still have to pay for 1 percent of the research-grant money that they are allotted.
The decision showed solidarity with several organizations, including the Association of American Universities, which have been urging changes for several years, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.
The Chronicle reported that "cost sharing" measures had been implemented in the 1940s for several federal agencies to help them stretch their budgets, but universities began to volunteer money on their own to make their proposals more competitive.
The average cost for colleges has ranged from 10 percent to 30 percent of the total award.
Several attempts have been made by NSF officials to alleviate pressure on colleges to pitch high matching funds, the Chronicle reported. Robert Killoran, former president of the National Council of University Research Administrators, told the Chronicle that some agency officials might have applied pressure to raise matching funds, but few university officials were willing to point out the offenders because they feared losing access to future funds. This new measure of complete separation works to prevent anything of that sort.
Thomas Cooley, director of the NSF's office of budget, finance and award management, told the Chronicle that the measure would allow smaller colleges to compete for awards more fairly with universities that might be able to foot more of the bill.
Research should be undertaken by the best people for the job. Science shouldn't be mired in petty business practices that give incentives for academics to focus on securing matching funds instead of their research.
The NSF's elimination of most of its matching funds requirements for proposals might force the foundation to make fewer grants available, but it should ensure that money goes to the researchers with the best ideas and not just the ones from the wealthiest institutions.
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