TAMPA — The University of South Florida’s long-standing goal is to be an upper echelon research institution. A new federal research ranking survey shows USF is making progress toward that goal by putting its money where its dreams are.
The survey shows USF has surged to No. 43 on the list of public and private universities when it comes to spending money on research. That’s up from No. 53 the year before, at a time when higher education research spending across the nation remained largely stagnant.
Among public institutions, the news was even better: USF moved to 27th, from 33rd last year, in total research expenditures.
The rankings are based on research and development expenditures, considered by the National Science Foundation to be significant markers in research activity. USF’s research spending increased from $394.9 million in 2011 to $443.2 million last year.
Still, university officials say, becoming a top-tier research university involves much more than just bringing in and spending cash.
“It’s not about the rankings,” said Paul R. Sanberg, USF’s senior vice president for research and innovation. “What I’d love to see is that we have the ability for our faculty, staff and students to be as creative as possible and to make very important discoveries in the economy and in partnerships in the Tampa Bay area and around the world.”
Part of the success, he said, comes from the university’s growing focus on securing private and nongovernmental research grants and contracts. It’s a trend that helped USF increase its total research grants and contracts to a new record of $413.6 million. The private grants help buffer the university against the automatic federal funding cuts known as sequester.
Grants from private concerns is key, Sanberg said. The university has pushed to secure funding from philanthropists, businesses and industries – entities that are the beneficiaries of research at the university level.
Such sources of funding have ebbed over the past half-decade, he said, but now appear to be on the upswing.
“Yes, we’ve gone through difficult times,” he said. “But, the chief thing here is to always remain focused, to provide infrastructure and an ability for our entrepreneurial faculty to really succeed. That’s what really helped USF to move up.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had the wrong ranking for USF on last year’s list of spending for research by public and private universities.