BY CHARLIE BIER
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has exceeded $100 million in research and development expenditures for the first time in its history.
Including institutional support and externally generated funds, UL Lafayette spent $100.98 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017. The total amount places it among the top 25 percent of U.S. colleges and universities in terms of research and development funding.
That’s according to the Higher Education Research and Development Survey, the National Science Foundation’s annual index of research expenditures.
Dr. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette’s president, made the announcement Wednesday during his annual State of the University address in Angelle Hall on campus.
UL Lafayette competes against other universities and private development firms for federal and state government grants and private sector contracts. The money faculty researchers secure comes to the University, which is the steward for the funds.
The 2017 figure is a 25 percent increase over the previous year’s total. In 2016, the University spent $80 million, and ranked 158 among 640 institutions the HERD Survey included. Of those, just 148 disbursed more than $100 million.
The University’s 2017 ranking hasn’t been released.
The $100.98 million satisfies a goal of UL Lafayette’s strategic plan: to reach $100 million in R&D expenditures by 2020, said Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, UL Lafayette’s vice president for Research, Innovation and Economic Development.
He called crossing the $100 million threshold “a milestone.”
“It is symbolic. It allows us to look at ourselves and say we are in the top pantheon of universities that are in the $100 million-plus mark, and it gives us the drive to get to that next level,” Kolluru said.
The next level: becoming a Research 1 university.
The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education categorizes universities based on research capacity, among other criteria. UL Lafayette is considered a Research 2 university, or one that produces “higher research activity.”
The University’s Strategic Plan envisions Research 1 status by 2020. By passing $100 million, “we’re knocking on the door,” Kolluru said. “Typically, R-1 universities have a funding portfolio of $100 million in R&D or higher.”
To reach its R&D expenditure threshold, Kolluru said the University launched a multiyear, multilayered ground game “to create a rich, fertile infrastructure across campus” that bolstered research among faculty, graduate students and undergraduates.
First, it identified focus areas that aligned with the University’s strategic goals and the state’s economic needs: life sciences, digital media, energy, coastal and water initiatives, materials and manufacturing, and Louisiana arts and culture.
UL Lafayette has several research centers and institutes dedicated to those areas. Where none existed, it created them. Kolluru pointed to the Louisiana Watershed Flood Center and the Center for Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, both of which launched this year, as examples.
Research centers are important, Kolluru explained. They indicate to funding agencies that a university has prioritized an area and that it has faculty researchers who are experts in those fields.
UL Lafayette also worked to attract companies to the region, such as digital media firms CGI, Perficient and Enquero, whose products or services fit into the focus areas the University initially identified.
In addition, a partnership between the New Iberia Research Center and medical firm Crown Bioscience contributed to moving the University closer to its funding goal while also aligning with the life sciences plank in its strategic plan.
Furthermore, UL Lafayette provided incentives to faculty who seek external research dollars. The University receives a portion of grant funding its researchers obtain to cover facilities and administrative costs.
As “lagniappe,” or something extra, Kolluru said UL Lafayette returned a portion of those dollars to researchers and their units to stimulate research across campus.
Researchers were compensated similarly if research proposals sought federal funds, and/or included allocations for undergraduate and graduate students to assist in the projects.
Finally, UL Lafayette encouraged interdisciplinary collaboration among researchers from different disciplines. Such partnerships have confronted issues such as opioid addiction and environmental sustainability, Kolluru said. “We are putting lenses together. And just like what happens at an optometrist’s office, when those lenses come together, sometimes the problem becomes clearer and solutions begin to emerge.”
All the while, the University is keeping an eye on 2020 and its goal of Research 1 status. The $100 million milestone is the first of many to come, Kolluru said.
“Our outstanding researchers made it possible. This $100 million is attributed to their intellect and their hard work.
“But I don’t think we are done yet. We are still a Research 2 university, on the second tier. And when I talk to these faculty members and students who are working with them, there’s nothing second tier about them.”