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RUFC Report CoverUT is familiar with trying to doing more with less. UT is striving to become a Top 25 research institution with less state and federal funds to do it.

It is not alone.

A study led by UT’s Brad Fenwick released today outlines critical challenges facing US research universities and makes suggestions for continued success.

The study, “The Current Health and Future Well-Being of the American University,” identifies the need for better information and cohesive strategies to effectively address challenges to sustain a U.S. competitive advantage in research. It also calls for collaborative action and a shift of focus toward research productivity.

The study, conducted by the Research Universities Futures Consortium—a group of twenty-five leading U.S. public and private research universities—was featured at a meeting of the Council of Research Policy and Graduate Education of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities in Washington, DC. It was funded by Elsevier.

Brad Fenwick
Brad Fenwick

“American research universities are at a crossroads,” said Fenwick, professor of biomedical research and education and former vice chancellor for research and engagement. “They are facing a combination of pressures, such as a decrease in funding, an increase in competition, intensifying compliance requirements, and a loss of political and public confidence in the value of academic research. At the same time, the expectations for scientific research to solve today’s global challenges have never been higher.”

The authors conducted in-depth interviews with researchers at twenty-five leading universities. Here are key challenges revealed in the report:

  • Hypercompetition and complexity—A scarcity of resources has caused a hypercompetitive environment and increased the difficulty of managing academic research activities.
  • Compliance and indirect cost recovery—The growing number of regulations, reporting requirements, and unfunded mandates have worsened institutional stress, increased pressure on administration, and diverted valuable faculty time from research.
  • Research quality and impact—Universities need to effectively collect information about campus research, both internally and externally funded. Currently, research is only measured as number of grants and dollars awarded and spent. Better monitoring will provide more transparency and enable more effective management of research to improve productivity and research outcomes.
  • Planning and decision support—Enabling the highest-impact research requires current and predictive data to assess programs and to evaluate key opportunities in a funding-constrained environment. Strategic decision making requires credible local, national, and international data.
  • Value of the research university—The value of the research university in serving society, contributing to local economies and promoting national innovation and security needs to be better communicated.
  • Fragility of research administration and leadership—The complexity and fragility of the academic research administrative enterprise is not fully appreciated by the campus community, sponsors, and stakeholders. Better understanding of the research administration and leadership will help institutions increase productivity and build competitive advantage.

The study concludes that there is a need to increase the productivity of research. It also suggests that by working together, universities could address some of the key challenges such as the burden of compliance and erosion of public support of academic research and also strengthen research program development and administration. Researchers outline how standard metrics and current and forward-looking data would play a critical role to realize this goal.

Finally, researchers find U.S. academia could benefit from a cohesive research strategy which supports a national research and innovation agenda.

“The consortium’s next step is to focus its attention on the development of realistic and sustainable solutions,” said Fenwick. “Our ultimate goal is sustaining and enhancing the current health and future well-being of the American research university.”

The Research Universities Futures Consortium’s purpose is to identify shared challenges, exchange ideas and approaches, and develop workable solutions that will enhance and sustain university-based research and graduate education. The report can be viewed by visiting

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. For more information, visit

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460,