GRAND FORKS — A new State Board of Higher Education committee is looking to further research in North Dakota.

The research committee, which has yet to have its first meeting, is made up of three State Board members, the presidents from UND and North Dakota State, the universities' two vice presidents for research and a faculty member from UND and NDSU. Additionally, the chancellor, the NDUS vice chancellor of Academic Affairs and a representative from the nine other NDUS institutions will round out the committee. Industry leaders also will play a role with the committee.

Discussions about having a separate committee for the research universities began happening about three years ago, North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said. However, the idea didn’t gain much traction until 2017 when the State Board added research to its list of goals. In 2018, it added further metrics and goals surrounding research.

Last year, Gov. Doug Burgum’s Higher Education Task Force asked legislators to consider a revamped higher education governance model, which would have dedicated a board just to the research universities. While the idea was eventually shot down by legislators, Hagerott said the discussion re-energized the idea.

“This has been evolving for some time but was really accelerated with the governor’s governance task force,” Hagerott said.

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John Mihelich, interim vice president for research and economic development at UND, said the committee will allow the system to better strategize its research together.

“I hope this committee can serve as an opportunity for us to work together, both the main campuses and the entire system, to see how we can collaborate and promote the things we are doing,” he said. “I see it as a great opportunity. It’s exciting that the State Board is looking at this further.”

Casey Ryan, a Grand Forks-based member of the State Board, will chair the committee. Board members Don Morton and Kathleen Neset will also represent the board.

Jane Schuh, North Dakota State’s vice president for research and creative activity, said North Dakota has a rich history of supporting education throughout the state, including at its highest levels.

“I think this committee is a good way to bring attention to the good things that are happening between NDSU and UND as our research universities and how we can capitalize on that moving forward,” she said.

While the two schools already do a lot of research, Schuh said the schools have an opportunity to grow that work together to serve the state of North Dakota and grow its economy.

“We’re at a really cool time right now,” she said. “I look around, and I see tremendous opportunities. I grew up in North Dakota, and I don’t remember a time that I’ve been more excited about things that NDSU and UND can do together.”

While UND and NDSU are the state’s dedicated research universities, other campuses throughout the system do research as well. For example, Mayville State students are assisting in a project that is determining alternative uses of wheat bran.

Continued collaboration will only strengthen the state’s research presence, Hagerott said.

Though the North Dakota State University extension centers receive about $70 million biannually to do agriculture research through the state, general research has become a larger talking point during the past year. Last year, the presidents of UND and NDSU proposed the universities split $100 million for research work. The Legislature eventually shot down a smaller proposal, but Hagerott said the research committee is an evolutionary step in the process to show taxpayers that North Dakota is serious about supporting research.

“It all just shows that we’re not just asking for a blank check, but the board is doing due diligence and doing additional levels of involvement,” he said.