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Universities Say Sequestration Cuts Are Damaging Scientific Research

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"Universities Say Sequestration Cuts Are Damaging Scientific Research"

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Eighty-one percent of research universities say budget sequestration cuts are directly hampering their scientific research activities, according to a new survey released Monday.

The series of blunt, across-the-board government spending cuts took effect this past March, after lawmakers were unable to agree on a more strategic and thought-out form of deficit reduction. (Whether such deficit reduction was even necessary is another can of worms entirely.) The Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and the Science Coalition (TSC) ran the survey among 171 research universities they collectively represent. Forty-three percent responded to the survey, and its margin of error was +/- ten percent.

Specifically, the study found that 70 percent of the surveyed institutions had delayed research projects and were dealing with fewer federal grants for new research. Twenty-eight percent reported an inability to purchase research equipment and instrumentation, 19 percent had cancelled field and experimental work, and 38 percent had delayed it.

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On top of that, 42 percent of the respondents said the cuts had directly affected their student bodies, and on the personnel side, 58 percent said they had impacted staff. Among the specific numbers: 23 percent reported fewer graduate student admissions, 24 percent reported fewer postdoctoral fellow positions, 31 percent had seen reductions in positions for students, and 16 percent had layed off permanent staff.

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“Sequestration is a blunt and reckless tool that has chipped away at the core role our institutions play for the country in conducting critical research that leads to next generation, technological breakthroughs. Even in its earliest phase, sequestration is permeating every aspect of the work that our research universities do,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “The survey trends today will worsen and then be deeply entrenched a year from now if sequestration remains in place.”

Back in 2012, before the cuts hit, Science magazine was already compiling the myriad ways they would damage the country’s scientific research institutions and infrastructure. In May, the Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee released a report detailing the ways sequestration was hurting the country’s ability to fight wildfires, to track storms and extreme weather, and to enforce regulations that cut down on air pollution and protect public health.

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