Focused on the Future of Funding
The current fiscal climate at research universities has given new meaning to making ends meet. Acknowledging the unique funding challenges at these institutions, the Executive Exchange for Research Universities sessions at this year's annual meeting were designed exclusively for chief business officers from public or independent research universities and medical centers or schools.
In the daylong program, CBOs from these institutions engaged in lively discussion about several major financial, administrative, and technological issues. At the outset, attendees agreed that the funding challenges facing research universities are indeed significant and somewhat unique, given the complexity of their internal management structures. Sharing these concerns with their peers provided a forum for useful problem solving. Here's an overview of the primary issues discussed.
Shrinking state support. The financial challenges facing largely state-supported research universities remain formidable and are likely to be long lasting. State governments, although they continue to place a high priority on funding the higher education systems they support, have not been able to identify resources needed to continue this support at previously planned levels. Fiscal challenges at the state level will likely require institutions to reevaluate enrollment goals and re-budget planned state subsidies.
Returns on investments and raising revenues. Both the global economic downturn and current economic conditions pose challenges to programs that require endowment support. While most institutions have reviewed their current asset allocations, they have not made significant changes to their asset allocation structures.
Equally important to these schools is attempting to ensure the predictability of the currently budgeted program support that is expected from the return on these investments. This may result in more stringent allocations of endowment return amounts as well as an increased reliance on alternative funding sources, such as intellectual property and patent revenues.
Coordinating CAO-CFO conversations. As changes in funding sources become more the norm than the exception, there is a need for increased cooperation among chief academic officers and CFOs, which will help to create strategic links between the academic programs managed by provosts' offices and the fiscal challenges confronting business offices. Increasing dialogue between leaders in these two areas will help to facilitate the coordination of workable solutions to problems common to both in the routine operations of their offices.
Computing on campus. While not directly related to funding, the extraordinary advances in computer technology and the proliferation of data resulting from greater and more dynamic research efforts have placed front and center the concept of shared mega-centers for computing on campuses. Plans are well under way at many institutions for such efforts, and they will continue to be a growing part of major universities' future research operations.
In addition to the opportunity for addressing common concerns such as those outlined here, the Executive Exchange also provided a catalyst for significant creative thinking in crafting possible solutions to these problems. Participants came away with momentum for the problem solving that awaits them when they return to their institutions.
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