Federal research awards at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska Medical Center declined last year, and university leaders are bracing for as much as $15 million in additional federal funding cuts this fiscal year.

UNL research awards fell by almost 3 percent in fiscal year 2012, while UNMC research awards fell by more than 2 percent.

Across the University of Nebraska’s four campuses, including the Omaha and Kearney campuses, federal research awards fell by nearly 2 percent from fiscal years 2011 to 2012.

Still, both UNL and UNMC beat campus goals over the past three years, with UNL's research awards increasing by about 8 percent and UNMC's by more than 12 percent. Last year, UNL received $101 million in research awards, compared to $103.9 million the previous year; UNMC received $84.1 million, compared to $86.1 million the previous year.

With nearly 76 percent of NU funding coming from federal agencies, university leaders are nervously watching the budget battle in the nation's capital, concerned about looming across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration. Besides affecting federal research funding, the cuts could hurt federal Pell Grant and work-study programs.

“It’s really not clear what the impact is going to be,” Matt Hammons, NU director of federal relations, told NU regents Friday.

He said federal agencies are planning to implement cuts in different ways. For example, the National Institutes of Health plans to cut existing grants by 5 to 10 percent and could slash new grant opportunities. At the same time, the National Science Foundation expects to award existing grants in full while cutting nearly 1,000 new awards.

NU could see $10 million to $15 million in reductions in federal funds in fiscal year 2013 and is facing flat funding for every year until 2021, Hammons said. The university also could see cuts in the tuition payments it receives from the federal government for students in the military. The federal government has suspended tuition assistance payments for military service members, citing sequestration.

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Hammons said students in the military could see cuts to their tuition assistance this summer and fall, although the amount of the cuts is not known. To demonstrate the potential effect of those cuts, UNL billed $160,200 to GoArmy for fall 2012 for 76 students, he said.

“Immediate cuts appear manageable, but they will accumulate and cut deeper over time,” he said.

Regent Howard Hawks of Omaha said it will be important for regents and university staff to monitor the budget battle in Washington, D.C.

“This could be a tremendous factor, especially as we set the budget in June,” he said.

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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