Oregon State University has set a new record for research funding, bringing in $308.9 million in contracts and licensing fees during the 2015 fiscal year, which ended June 30.
The total was up from about $285 million last year and was more than $20 million above the previous high water mark of $288 million, reached in fiscal 2010.
“It’s phenomenal,” said OSU Vice President for Research Cynthia Sagers, who stepped into the job Aug. 31 following the retirement of Ron Adams. “It is a big, big number for a campus of our size in this funding environment.”
While the federal government remains the largest source of research dollars for OSU, that number has been relatively flat over the past five years — an achievement in itself, according to Associate Vice President for Research Rich Holdren, who points out that overall federal support for academic research has been declining over that span.
“On the federal side, just keeping our nose above water has been a challenge,” he said. “We’ve seen significant decreases in the amount of federal research funding available.”
The National Science Foundation was OSU’s most generous federal supporter last year with grants totaling $61.5 million, according to Holdren, followed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at $27 million, the Department of Health and Human Services ($18.7 million), the Department of Energy ($9 million), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($7.8 million) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ($5.2 million).
Most of the growth in OSU’s research enterprise, however, came from private industry, which has upped its sponsorship from $25 million in 2010 to $45 million today, Holdren said.
“We’ve been working to make those connections any way we can and looking to extract a lot more value from them,” he said.
The list of companies picking up part of the tab for OSU research projects includes corporate heavyweights such as Hewlett-Packard, Nike and Boeing as well as smaller Oregon firms such as Benchmade Knife in Oregon City, Sheldon Manufacturing in Cornelius and NuScale Power in Corvallis.
Licensing revenues from technology developed by OSU scientists also made a contribution to the bottom line, nearly doubling from less than $6 million last year to more than $10 million in fiscal 2015.
Another strategy that has helped OSU grow research revenues is to go after large federal contracts by cooperating across departmental and institutional lines.
One recent example is ASSURE, the Alliance for System Safety through Research Excellence, a consortium led by Mississippi State University that also included OSU and a dozen other academic institutions. In May, the group was awarded $25 million in funding over five years by the Federal Aviation Administration to find ways of safely integrating drones into mainstream aviation.
“We’ve worked very hard here at OSU trying to build more collaborative, team science,” Holdren said. “Our faculty have been wonderful about this.”
Altogether, 558 OSU faculty members were awarded research grants last year. That funding supports 843 graduate research positions and 165 postdoctoral researchers, according to the OSU Research Office.