The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday June 1st

UNC looks for other funding options

After the federal shutdown threatened UNC’s main source of research funding, University leaders are looking into more non-government options for future funding.

Barbara Entwisle, vice chancellor of research, said in the last fiscal year, UNC received $778 million in total funding for research.

Around 80 percent of those funds came from federal agencies — often indirectly — Entwisle said.

“One of our goals has been to diversify,” Entwisle said. “We’re looking to grow those portions that are outside of the federal government, especially business and industry.”

According to a report released last year by the National Research Council, universities need to diversify funding to include private sources, such as industry, to stay competitive in the future. Entwisle said industry hasn’t been a huge component of UNC’s research portfolio in the past, though she said events like the shutdown suggest that it should be.

She said when it comes to industry sources for research funds, UNC falls short of peer institute Duke University. Duke receives the most industry sponsors in the nation — roughly $200 million a year compared to UNC’s $32 million.

Entwisle said UNC is one of many universities that falls towards the bottom of the scale in industry support.

“We’re trying to figure out new ways to partner with industry and so is everybody else,” she said.

She said UNC’s industry support increased about 16 percent last year, mainly due to clinical trials, which she said entice corporate investors to promote research.

She also said companies that originate at UNC — such as alumni startups — are more likely to support University research.

Christin Daniels, director of research for the UNC Gillings School of Public Health, said the school is also striving for a diversified research portfolio.

Daniels said 78.6 percent of 2013 external funding for the school came from the federal government.

In just the last fiscal year, the School of Public Health has doubled its income from industries from three percent to six percent.

“It’s the best way to get research from the bench to society,” Daniels said.

Christina Rodriguez, grants management officer for UNC’s psychology department, said she is trying to broaden her department’s research portfolio by encouraging more collaborative research.

“We certainly encourage investigators to look at foundations and industry and corporate sponsors. Building relationships is really important,” Rodriguez said.

But Rodriguez said most of the department’s funding is still dependent on the federal government’s National Institutes of Health. Even the department’s state contract has federal flow-through money from the U.S. Department of Education.

“I think that the shutdown is a good reminder that a diverse research portfolio is important,” Rodriguez said.

Robin Cyr, director of UNC’s Office of Sponsored Research, said diversified sponsorship would make a more collaborative approach to research, and bring more funding to the region.

“UNC is trying to become more transparent and easier to work with,” Cyr said.

Cyr said Duke and N.C. State University have been very receptive of UNC’s efforts to span research across campuses.

She said federal funding is still essential to a university’s research sponsorship, so UNC will continue to apply for government funds.

But Entwisle remains optimistic about the current state of UNC’s research portfolio.

“We’re working way ahead of where things are now. We’ve got a plan and we’re in good shape. As good as one can be.”

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