Findings & Recommendations
The process of preparing this plan, which included review of relevant reports and documents both about Maine and the national R&D endeavor, and input sessions and discussions with System faculty, staff, students, administrators, and stakeholders from the Legislature, the Governor’s Office, and the business sector, has led to some key findings and associated recommendations.
Investment by the state of Maine and the University of Maine System in R&D has been essential to reach our current R&D capacity.
The Maine Economic Improvement Fund was established by the Maine Legislature in 1998 and the Research Reinvestment Fund was established by the System Board of Trustees in 2015. Without those resources it is quite possible that the capacity at the University of Maine to seek and obtain external funding would have been severely impeded, and that R&D at the University of Southern Maine and other System campuses would have been minimal. These state funds have leveraged significant external funding and enabled hundreds of students to participate in research and to be paid for that participation. To sustain and grow university-based R&D infrastructure in Maine in the next 10 years that is properly scaled to achieve the goals will require increased investment from state and System sources. It also will require realignment over time within campus budgets. Clear metrics and accountability expectations will be necessary to track the outputs, outcomes, and impacts of these changes. Launching grand challenge initiatives will allow for focused investment in areas poised to grow and yield results in both the near and long term. Such investment stands to raise national ranking, and will increase competitiveness with similar institutions in other states for federal funds, leading world-class faculty, and excellent students to come to, and remain in, Maine. But, most important, these investments will yield benefits for the students and people of the state of Maine by enabling preparation of a knowledge-and-innovation workforce to fill key positions and attract businesses to a growing state economy.
First, we recommend that the UMS Research Reinvestment Fund be renewed for five years, at a level of $4 million per year, beginning in FY20. Additional new selection priorities should be considered, such as partnerships with private-sector entities or local communities to solve practical problems, or collaborations among researchers on different System campuses. These investments should promote strong networks of researchers, allow adequate time for faculty to conduct research, and expand opportunities for paid student research experiences. Outcomes should include measurable return on investment, effectiveness in leveraging external funding, and quality and impact of student engagement in research.
Second, we recommend regular increases in state MEIF investment to reach a steady level of $40 million annually by the end of FY24. This fund supports the on-campus capacity, including researchers, students, and facilities, that allows success in the intense national competition for federal research funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and other agencies. Additional MEIF resources would sustain and enhance infrastructure, and expand research capacity and expenditures in the highest-priority R&D areas for Maine’s future well-being and economic success. Improving Maine’s standing in national rankings of higher education expenditures in R&D will help attract R&D-intensive industry to the state. But the most important outcome of this investment will be expanded opportunity for Maine students to be educated in R&D-rich environments so they can become Maine leaders and innovators. System campuses will be asked to consistently track and report the number of students involved in R&D. In preparation for this request, by January 2020 the System should complete an analysis of ROI and impact on the Maine economy of MEIF over its 20 years of existence.
Third, the System institutions will collaboratively develop a plan for integrating R&D expenses in the E&G budget, parallel to the way that instructional costs are embedded. The System’s appropriation allocation model already encourages campuses to look closely at R&D spending in comparison to established peer institutions. In addition, universities will consider realigning resources within their E&G budgets to provide additional support, as appropriate, for their R&D goals. We strongly urge the universities to reinvest F&A cost recovery back into the research enterprise more substantially.
These investments will contribute to attracting students in Maine and to Maine by expanding the breadth of learning opportunities, including such options as paid internships with Maine companies interested in R&D expertise. Students with exposure to undergraduate research are likely to continue into our graduate offerings, establishing a pipeline, and improving the quality and capacity of the System graduate student body. These students will be prepared for the jobs of the 21st century and will be competitive in the national job market.
These changes would raise the profile of the University of Maine and other System campuses in ability to recruit students who are interested in undergraduate research, to attract and retain first-rate research faculty and graduate students, to compete for external federal funds, and to partner with the private sector to engage in R&D. All of these potential outcomes should be considered in designing accountability measures.
Each System campus has its own unique, engaged R&D core of expertise that should be further strengthened.
Research now and in the future will have a major role in “Making Maine the most desirable state in which to learn, work, and live by 2030.” Across the System, we have a rich and diverse set of research interests and capabilities, and great expertise among the faculty to continue ongoing R&D, and to undertake new lines of work in connection with their students.
Each institution has distinct identifiable strengths and emerging goals for its role in R&D, and at each university in the System the centrality and scope of the R&D enterprise differs. For the University of Maine, the state’s comprehensive land and sea grant public research university, basic and applied research, development, and commercialization are core to the mission, with $100 million annually in research expenditures from external sponsors. At the University of Southern Maine, the R&D strength spans many areas, and much of the work is applied. Goals for applied learning and workforce development are important there. On the other System campuses there are excellent examples of research and scholarship fully integrated into instruction and service, though with limited externally funded research.
First, each of the System campuses should develop a five-year R&D implementation plan for increasing research expenditures aligned with the goals of this plan and appropriate to each campus. Coordination and collaboration across campuses in R&D can then be considered. Existing and emerging signature R&D strengths at the University of Maine and other campuses will provide a foundation for this effort. By connecting to those established and emerging areas of strength, all campuses can design research agendas that are tailored to specific needs of their communities and geographic regions, that suit the interests and expertise of their faculty, and that will engage their students. Coordinated and public campus plans will be useful to potential new businesses and partners.
Second, the System universities, working together with Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine and Human Resources units, should design and implement creative approaches to joint faculty appointments, including membership in the University of Maine Graduate Faculty. Such appointments will help to reduce barriers to conducting research and allow direct engagement with doctoral students. R&D faculty and student exchange and residency programs will be considered. The idea is to cultivate more cross-campus R&D collaboration that will generate tangible results for specific problems in Maine.
Third, the universities should collaborate on data governance in R&D to achieve consistency in reporting and to ensure appropriate credit for R&D expenditures. Methods to consistently include credit for a range of types of scholarly production should be explored when national surveys are not sufficient. By addressing these matters, we would support accountability and enable measurement of progress. In addition, we should assess System-wide access to research databases of interest to researchers and scholars on multiple campuses and create cost-effective solutions.
Across the University of Maine System, we have been failing to compete as well as we should for significant federal funding, and our facilities, infrastructure, and administrative support for R&D are inadequate in several fields important to Maine’s future.
Between 2007 and 2016, Maine’s total R&D expenditure declined nearly 40 percent — the largest decline of any state over that period.i The System as a whole is underperforming in higher education R&D expenditures. There are dozens of federal competitive grant programs available across the major science agencies annually in R&D areas of relevance to the state of Maine for which few or, in some cases, no applications are made from System universities. This unacceptable situation results from a combination of lack of faculty with expertise or interest in key areas; insufficient administrative capacity to support proposal planning and submission; inadequate faculty time to prepare proposals because of competing teaching and service loads; and lack of graduate students, postdoctoral associates, and technicians. In addition, there is a critical need for improved facilities; modern and sophisticated instruments and research resources; and procedures for sharing equipment and instruments. Sometimes, faculty cannot pursue research funding opportunities because the needed equipment, facilities, and capabilities do not exist in the System, or the costs of compliance and purchasing licenses would be too great for faculty to cover from their own research budgets. Universities similar to UMaine have this research infrastructure in place, which puts our faculty at a disadvantage when competing for federal grants. And there are opportunities to engage undergraduate students in research that are not being realized because of the lack of needed equipment and personnel. Improving modernized equipment has the added benefit of enabling the training of our students to prepare for jobs of the future that would use this instrumentation. All campuses report a large need for more administrative support in R&D.
Despite all this, we are confident that System faculty and staff are resourceful and deeply committed to their students, their research, and to Maine, and that we can remedy much of this situation with relatively modest resources, and increased coordination and communication.
First, assuming availability of additional resources from combined sources, the universities will review and address needs for coordinated hiring of faculty in key areas of importance to the state as determined, for instance, by System Board of Trustee goals, or recommended in the reports of the Maine Economic Growth Council or the economic growth plan currently under development through the Office of the Governor. Similar coordination or information-sharing should be applied to the hiring of postdoctoral associates, technicians, and graduate students.
Second, a System-wide inventory of R&D instruments and facilities should be assembled and made available to all new faculty. The Coordinated Operating Research Entities, or CORE, pioneered at the University of Maine, provides a model and could be expanded system-wide. Campus master plans should address needs for expanded and renovated R&D facilities.
Third, the comprehensive research administration and development capacity currently in place at the University of Maine should be made available to support faculty research needs across the System. Inter-campus research administration collaborations between the University of Maine and other System campuses have been established (e.g., with the University of Maine at Machias and the University of Maine at Fort Kent). Research administration services also exist at the University of Southern Maine. Both the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine house expertise for research compliance, which could become shared resources with other System campuses.
Across the System, undergraduate students are engaging in authentic research experiences and community-engaged research initiatives that are benefitting the region and the state.
The opportunity to participate in research, development, and commercialization activities is highly attractive to undergraduate and graduate students, and many faculty across the System are effectively integrating research with instruction, including community-engaged research on problems of specific local interest. In the various listening sessions conducted during the development of this plan, faculty shared many examples of such student experiences. However, this student involvement is not as widespread or systematic as would be necessary to attract many more
students to System institutions, and help retain them.
First, the System must provide leadership in incentivizing and enabling every undergraduate student in the University of Maine System to have a meaningful/authentic experience in research, scholarship, development, creative production, policy analysis, translation, or commercialization. System Program Innovation Funds should be considered as a resource.
Second, Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences and other similar evidence-based courses should be piloted and evaluated across the System according to campus capacity and interest, and supported with campus resources. Impact on recruitment, enrollment, and retention will be assessed, as well as the ability of students to obtain paid summer internships and employment after graduation, and whether students remain in, or return to Maine.
The private and nonprofit sectors and the Maine state government are eager for expanded R&D interactions with higher education.
Private-sector entities already partner in R&D relationships with several System universities, with a large number at the University of Maine. External companies considering moving to Maine also have expressed great interest in partnering with the University of Maine System to extend their R&D capabilities for those interested entities. However, sometimes locating the best System research experts and gaining access to R&D capabilities are challenging. If UMaine and other System institutions were more easily able to partner with private-sector industries and businesses, we could tap a great source of economic stimulus in the state and provide opportunity for student interaction.
In the context of a dispersed and locally driven ecosystem in Maine for economic development, University of Maine System faculty and staff are deeply engaged in efforts to support commercialization, business development, incubation, and private-sector needs in R&D. The System has ample capacity to grow research partnerships with the private sector as well as commercialization outputs of university research (e.g., spin-offs, revenue, and intellectual property.) As with research expenditures, the System has room to grow industrial contract income, licensing revenue, invention disclosure, and patent production, as well as the number and types of startup companies spun off from university research. Those efforts could be expanded with potential impact statewide. And, in areas of policy and business that are key to the state, including ecosystem health, health care, education, aquaculture, marine resources, and biomedical and biotechnology applications, the System institutions already are positioned, because of the breadth of their research expertise, to more systematically provide background information and analyses to the state and to the members of our federal delegation.
The universities should continue to work closely with the private and government sectors to establish productive collaborations. Approaches to consider should include the creation of a Maine R&D Fellows program designed to connect System faculty, state government, Maine’s federal delegation, and potential private/nonprofit partners to work collaboratively.
Second, the University of Maine should undertake a high-level review of existing doctoral programs in the STEM fields. The review should consider how program emphases align with current and projected state economic and R&D needs, whether basic, discovery research is sufficiently supported, and whether new directions in science and technology, including convergence, machine learning, and shared datasets, are being incorporated. Program consolidations, examination of how new programs are developed, and other realignments should be undertaken to lead to increased production of doctoral degrees, an important part of building R&D capacity.
Third, research commercialization outputs as measured by revenue, intellectual property production, and university spinoff companies, business incubation and acceleration, and formal partnerships with industry should grow significantly during the plan’s implementation phase. Revenue targets should be set to grow significantly and the number of formal partnerships and spin-off outputs should double by 2025.
Finally, System institutions will engage in more robust communication of System R&D accomplishments statewide and nationally. As the Governor’s economic development plan is completed, System universities should seek the best ways of providing capacity to that plan, through strategic interactions with the Governor and the Maine Legislature in identifying and responding to changing priorities needing R&D inputs.
The University of Maine System is committed to the improvement of quality of life and economic success of the state of Maine. Strategic expansion of research and development across the institutions of the System will have a direct impact on that quality of life and economic success. The success of the research and development enterprise across the University of Maine System depends, ultimately, on the creativity, innovation, and productivity of the individuals and groups engaged in R&D. Their successes are essential in helping Maine’s learners have access to the best research-based education possible; obtaining external funding for research that will impact Maine and the world; sustaining the quality of research facilities, instruments, and technical staff; and fully integrating research and instruction. We must make shifts in policies, practices, and resource allocations in the System, and partner strategically with the Maine Legislature, the Office of the Governor, education systems in Maine, and the private sector. This will enhance the abilities of our faculty, students, and staff to be the regional, state, national, and international leaders in research that they are qualified to be, to benefit the learners and all people in Maine.