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Duke climbs US research rankings

Duke is building upon its elite standing as a research institution despite the shrinking pool for federal research funding.

Duke was ranked the fifth-largest research university in the nation based on expenditures in fiscal year 2010, the University announced Monday. Duke spent $983 million on research, increasing its ranking two places from the 2009 fiscal year. Although the national average for research and development spending for universities increased by 6.9 percent, Duke’s expenditures increased by 21.6 percent.

“Our upward trend has been continuous for a decade,” said Vice Provost for Research Jim Siedow.

Of Duke’s $983 million in expenditures, $514 million came from the federal government and $113 million was funded internally by the University, according to the National Science Foundation report. The University received the 13th-most federal funding for research in fiscal year 2010. Since the economic downturn, the federal government has been tightening its budget for research and development, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations. Even so, Duke’s research expenditures have continued to expand—largely fueled by significant corporate contracts.

Duke received $234 million in contracts and grants from corporations in fiscal year 2010. Duke receives the most corporate funding out of any university nationally, nearly doubling the next highest recipient of corporate funds: Ohio State University, which gets $120 million, according to the NSF report.

“We were among the first schools to really look at corporations as an opportunity,” Schoenfeld added. “Now that the federal funding for research is slowing down and in some cases, shrinking, more and more universities are trying to catch up in the private sector.”

Only Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Washington-Seattle rank ahead of Duke in total research expenditures, according to a report by the NSF. This makes Duke the second-largest private research university.

“[This] is related to the quality of our faculty and the quality of our proposals,” Schoenfeld said. “We have a massive research enterprise and our faculty are among the best in the world—they are very competitive for the funding.”

Of Duke’s total research enterprise, 83 percent is embodied in the Duke University Medical Center—a large portion of which is comprised by the Duke Clinical Research Institute, Siedow noted. The DCRI is a major boon to the University’s research undertaking due to size and official partnership with Duke.

Nationally, medical sciences receive the most federal research funding by a large margin, according to the NSF report.

Contract research organizations like the DCRI are not unique to Duke, Siedow said, but the DCRI stands out because it is both a part of the University’s research enterprise and is large enough to be nationally acclaimed.

“There are two categories of competitors for the DCRI—ones that are like ours, but are smaller and ones that are our size but don’t count as a part of the school’s total research expenditures,” Siedow said.

About 220 faculty and 1,200 employees are engaged in clinical research at the DCRI, noted Director Robert Harrington. About 40 percent of its research funding is from federal sources. Harrington outlined two methods in which institutions garner federal research grants—groups of researchers can approach federal departments and apply for a grant, subjecting the proposals to peer review, or the government can pose a question and choose the most competitive and suited institution to proceed with the research.

Harrington added that the government seeks to fund universities who excel in “team science”—research that involves multiple departments of the wider institution. Biomedical engineering is one of Duke’s most impressive cross-departmental research efforts.

“The diversity of our research, our proficiency in team science and the overall strength and creativity of our faculty all speak to why we’ve done so well in the face of a shrinking pool over the past few years,” he said.

Other than federal sources, Harrington added that DCRI receives funds from virtually all of the major pharmaceutical companies and also forms contracts with a variety of smaller biotechnology and biologics firms.


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