KU braces for cuts to research funding

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The University of Kansas is bracing for potential cuts to research dollars from federal agencies — the single biggest funding source of research at the university.

Communications director Kevin Boatright said KU is promising to stand by graduate students this semester if grants that fund assistant research positions shrink as a result of the automatic cuts in federal spending that kicked in March 1.

Boatright said it is difficult to gauge how the sequester will affect KU because the university receives funding from various agencies, each of which could take a different approach to cuts. However, it is possible some research projects could see immediate reductions in authorized spending limits.

“We’re taking it seriously,” Boatright said. “We are planning as though this 5.1 percent sequestration in federal funding for research is going to continue.”

Boatright said the university’s main federal funding sources for research are the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education, and key recipients include the schools of pharmacy, education and engineering.

Externally funded research expenditures at KU totaled $256 million in the 2011 fiscal year, Boatright said, and federal dollars usually make up about 80 percent to 85 percent of that annual total. Though KU hopes to shield its research assistants in the short-term, it isn’t making guarantees past this semester.

“We’ll do everything we can to protect our students, but if the funding isn’t there, the funding isn’t there,” Boatright said.

Kansas State University, meanwhile, forwarded a notice from the National Science Foundation to its faculty late last month.

According to the notice, appropriations for fiscal year 2013 will drop 5 percent, but the foundation hopes to stand by current grants.

The main impact would be offering fewer awards, the foundation said, with the number of new grants dropping by about 1,000 for the 2013 fiscal year.

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