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The state of research revenue

Total figure is down, amongst other issues

Authors: : michael chmielewski – editor-in-chief and alec salloum – news editor

This discrepancy will be fixed, according to external relations. / Kyle Leitch
This discrepancy will be fixed, according to external relations. / Kyle Leitch

The state of research revenue at the University of Regina is an interesting one. During the last few years total research revenue has ebbed and flowed, and this year it’s at a low point. Also, the figure has not doubled over the last decade, as has been claimed in job ads seeking a Vice-President (Research). Yet, it’s not all bad news, as research impact over research revenue has become a more cited figure recently.

The state of research revenue:

Total research revenue for the 2013-14 fiscal year is down from last year. The 2013-14 year end figure was 18.28 million according to Director of Office for Research, Innovation and Partnership Sally Gray, while the 2012-13 figure was $21.8 million according to the May 1-July 2 2013 President’s Report to the Board.

That means that the U of R’s research revenue year over year went down by $3.52 million.

The U of R’s total research revenue figure has not changed much in the last decade. The total figure in 2003-04 was $19.56 million according to the Financial Statements documents for the year-end April 30, 2004 report. So, it is strange that the U of R has been advertising otherwise.

Various hiring ads seeking nominations and applications for the position of Vice-President (Research) for the U of R state that “the University of Regina has seen its research funding more than double over the last decade.” As the numbers above show, this is not true.

“Unfortunately, the sentence you reference in the job posting was included in error. We are having the national search firm involved correct this mistake” said Director of Communications, Marketing and Alumni Relations Kim McKechney in a Nov. 17 email exchange.

According to the job ad, consideration of candidates will begin in November, with the new VPR taking office in the summer of 2015.

The Numbers:

According to the 2013-14 University of Regina Annual Report the research revenue target for 2014 was $24.1 million. However, when the fiscal year ended and the numbers were tallied the result was $18.28 million in revenue.

Typically the U of R President reports this number at the Board of Governors meeting following the books closing on April 30. In the last few years, the research revenue figure is always mentioned in the President’s report to the board.

In 2012-13, the U of R saw $21.8 million in revenue; 2011-12, $24.3 million; 2010-11, $21.638 million, all reported in the respective year’s President’s report to the Board of Governors. This year, the number was not reported in the President’s report available online. While not mentioning the total figure, the 2013-14 April 26- July 9 presentation did explain that, “[m]easured by citation indices, research impact results indicate that the University of Regina leads Canadian comprehensive universities in this area that assesses quality of work.”

The Carillon sought confirmation of the total research revenue figure several times starting in September. The Carillon was told that the numbers were not ready yet, and it would not be ready until Oct. 31 when the numbers were reported to CAUBO, the Canadian Association of University Business Officers.

Yet, the 2013-14 University of Regina Annual Report did indeed report a result of “$18.0 million” for total research revenue. Seeking confirmation on this, the Carillon was told that the number was not ready yet, but we were later sent over email the link to the same Annual Report. On Oct. 31 the CAUBO data was sent, and the figure was $18.28 million dollars.

The U of R has been emphasizing research impact, essentially how many times U of R research is cited and other “indicators of success.”

Impact:

This year’s January to April Research Newsletter, from the office of the VPR, emphasizes research impact over research revenue.

“The typical measure across post-secondary institutions has been external funding: ‘How many Tri-council dollars do you bring in each year?’ More is obviously better… But is that the true essence of research excellence?”

“To that end, we need to raise awareness of the impact of our research. Impact implies not only that what we write is being read (and cited) in high-quality peer-reviewed journals, but also that for some disciplines there are other indicators of excellencethe newsletter goes on.

Despite this drop in funding the U of R has still been able to produce substantial research. David Malloy, acting Vice-President (Research), has been advocating the impact of research at the University.

“You can bring in a tonne of money and produce crappy research, that’s not what we’re doing. We’re bringing in a modest amount of research but we’re punching so far above our weight in terms of research impact.”

According to Malloy, despite the dollar figure decreasing, overall grant applications have gone up, indicating a healthy and vibrant research community at the U of R. “The U of R research environment is, despite lessening funding from federal sources, still vibrant” said Malloy.

This research, and subsequent publications, has seen notable success recently. From the U of R’s involvement in carbon capture technology now implemented in the $1.35 billion Boundary Dam Power Station in Estevan – the world’s first coal carbon capture and storage project – or the national success of James Daschuk’s Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life.

Despite this, the drop in funding represents an obstacle for the University. According to the U of R’s Annual Report 2012-13, “Funding of academic and research activity is the University’s most significant source of capital and operating revenue. The University requires adequate funding to promote sustained growth of the institution and to keep up with inflationary pressures.”

This has been a consistent trend through almost all of Canada’s research producing universities due to a lessening of funding. This lessening largely comes from the Tri-Council Agencies, three federally funded grant giving institutions, decreasing their overall expenditure.

The three Tri-Council Agencies are the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). These are a major source of funding for research at universities.

According to an article from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), as Canadian university professoriate grew “by 9.5 per cent, from 38,313 in 2007-08 to 41,934 in 2010-11, federal research funding “fell by 5.5 per cent from $20,854 to $19,708,” per faculty member. In other words, less money for more professors.

“I won’t deny, I certainly wish we were bringing in more funding” Malloy said. “I wish we were having higher success rates at Tri-Council, as does every university across country.”

“So the bottom line in terms of overall dollars, it’s a difficult environment for all universities these days” Malloy explained.

Though the U of R’s research has been effective, fewer dollars for research means fewer opportunities. Also, few research dollars affects something called the “indirect cost of research,” which is defined by the U of R as “those expenditures incurred in the conduct of research that are not readily or effectively traceable to specific expenses…[t]o insure that the necessary institutional support is available to researchers and service providers, a recovery charge for indirect costs is applied to research grants and service contracts.”

So, a drop in research revenue can affect indirect costs of research.

“[A]ny reduction in Tri-Council does affect us, having said that we’re down in NSERC, we’re considerably up in CIHR and we’re down slightly in SSHRC. So I don’t know that there’s going to be that big of a switch, but we won’t know that number until spring” Malloy explained.

“But there will be an effect, there certainly will be an effect.”

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