The University of Maine System on Wednesday released a draft document that lays out specific goals for its Maine Economic Improvement Fund, a result of a June report from the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability that criticized the university system for not establishing “measurable goals and objectives” for the $15 million annual fund as required by statute.
The Maine Legislature established the Maine Economic Improvement Fund in 1997 to invest in research and development at Maine’s public universities and to leverage matching federal funds in seven industry sectors. The University of Maine System administers the fund.
Since the fund’s inception, the university system has received more than $209 million, the majority of which is funneled to research and development projects at the University of Maine in Orono, such as the Advanced Structures and Composites Center and the Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative, both based in Orono. Last year, the system received $14.7 million for R&D, of which nearly $11.7 million went to Orono. The University of Southern Maine received $2.9 million and the remainder was spread among smaller campuses.
The system provides an annual report to the Legislature that describes how the funds were used and includes various metrics, such as the amount of outside funding the MEIF funds leveraged. But, the system has not established mandatory, long-term objectives for the fund, OPEGA concluded in its report.
“Since the reported metrics are not linked to any particular goals or objectives, targets or trends, there is little context to evaluate how they represent achievements related to MEIF,” the OPEGA report said.
OPEGA recommended that the system work with the University of Maine, the University of Southern Maine and the other smaller university campuses to develop specific objectives for the fund and to standardize reporting methods.
OPEGA completed the report at the behest of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which met Wednesday morning to discuss it and hear from James Page, the university system’s chancellor. The university system also submitted draft objectives to the committee.
According to Ryan Low, the system’s director of external affairs, university officials agree with the report’s recommendations and began working on them when the report was released. He said the system has goals for its larger research-and-development activities, but there haven’t been articulated goals specific to its MEIF funds.
The system is still developing its MEIF goals, but has outlined two. One establishes a threshold for MEIF funds in overall research and development funds, and the other seeks to increase the percentage of MEIF funds responsible for revenue from commercialization and licensing fees.