Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Perspectives on Institutional Bridge-Funding Policies and Strategies in the Biomedical Sciences

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Perspectives on Institutional Bridge-Funding Policies and Strategies in the Biomedical Sciences

Article excerpt


With steadily declining funding success rates for academic research by maj or funding organizations in North America, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), academic researchers are facing month-by-month uncertainty with respect to the financial stability and sustainability of their research programs. The NIH funding success rates for first time operating research grants (R01 and equivalent) has dropped from 38% in 1998 to 18% in 2015 (NIH, 2015), and the success rates of CIHR open operating grants have dropped from 33% in 2005 to 18% in 2014 (CIHR, 2014). Significant and unexpected reductions in funding success rates inevitably increase the probability that any academic research program will encounter a period of underfunding or complete lack of funding. This phenomenon is putting pressure on research-intensive tertiary education institutions (TEIs) who historically have financially supported underfunded researchers between grants with bridge-funding. The slow recovery of the global economy from the financial crisis of 2007-8 (IMF, 2014) has eroded the financial stability of most TEIs, causing internal research funding programs to be stretched thin (Glied, Bakken, Formicola, Gebbie, & Larson, 2007; Holbrook & Sanberg, 2013; Neiman, 2013).

Bridge-funding is a mechanism by which institutions can financially support a researcher or research group between external grant funding periods. As the name implies, this is not intended to be a perpetual source of operational funds, but to "bridge" the financial gap between past and future external funding. When executed successfully, it creates a win-win situation: the researcher is able to continue his/her research program and career progression; the institution retains a productive research asset, while emboldening other researchers in the institution with a sense of security that facilitates their own research decisions (Glied et al., 2007; Neiman, 2013). When executed poorly, the researcher's career is unnecessarily drawn out and internal funds are depleted. Hence, the decision of who or what to bridge-fund, for how much, for how long, and what conditions should accompany bridge-funding is paramount, particularly in these times when other sources of income for institutions are also uncertain. Indeed, Paul Neiman (the first director of the Basic Sciences Division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA) states in reference to decision-making in bridge-funding management: "In times of financial stress there may be no other more important need for a research institution to address" (Neiman, 2013, p. 17).

Despite the importance of institutional bridge-funding mechanisms for the stability of research careers and the global academic research system as a whole, there is surprisingly little literature on the policies, strategies and management of bridge-funding schemes. Given this scarcity of information, much of this paper will draw upon opinion-based literature and personal observation. To address the deficiency of data on the topic, a brief analysis of publicly available policy documents on bridge-funding from medical faculties in North America will be presented. This document does not attempt to critically evaluate the effectiveness of particular bridgefunding strategies-although such studies are particularly warranted. Instead, it attempts to provide a considered perspective on current bridge-funding strategies and the rationale behind these schemes. .

Who, what and how to bridge-fund: application of the principles of cost-benefit analysis

In a perfect world, all researchers who request bridge-funding would be supported at the level and term requested. In reality, the institution is most likely to provide bridge-funding to a proportion of those researchers who are underfunded and at a level that may be suboptimal (Glied et al., 2007). Hence, those in academic leadership positions need to strategically allocate bridge funds to maximize institutional sustainability and do so in a logical and defensible manner (Taylor, 2006). …

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