University Funding:

Assessing Federal Funding Mechanisms for University Research

RCED-86-75: Published: Feb 7, 1986. Publicly Released: Feb 7, 1986.


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In response to a congressional request, GAO assessed the role and impact of different funding mechanisms on university scientific research, specifically whether: (1) particular funding mechanisms played a role in helping universities improve program quality; and (2) individual project grants and center grants had differing effects on research performance.

GAO studied five universities, whose research programs' quality had improved, to determine: (1) what funding and other strategies these universities used to improve selected departments; and (2) how the departments were able to finance their program improvement initiatives. GAO found elements common to all five universities: (1) an explicit commitment from the university to improve its program through increases in internal and external funding and personnel changes; (2) seed funding from government sources, such as National Science Foundation grants, or from private industry, the state government, or the university; (3) after the investment of seed money, the individual project mechanism was the primary source of support with supplemental funds from state governments, endowments, industry, or university funds; and (4) the particular funding mechanism was less important than the ability to obtain grant funds. GAO also found that scientists felt that: (1) the field of science rather than the funding mechanism had a greater affect on coverage of resource requirements and administrative burden; (2) working under center grants provided more financial and resource support stability than working under individual project grants; and (3) they were more likely to perform innovative, high risk, or interdisciplinary research under center grants.

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