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Fitch: Health Institute Plan Could Pressure Universities

LOS ANGELES -- A plan proposed last week by the National Institutes of Health could pressure some United States universities, Fitch Ratings said in a report Monday.

“Fitch believes these NIH initiatives, which are intended to improve diversity issues and create a sustainable training and support framework for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, will create a need for additional internal controls to be implemented by universities,” Fitch analysts wrote.

The NIH, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary agency of the U.S. government responsible for biomedical and health-related research, with headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland.

In June 2012, the agency created working groups charged with supporting growth and diversity of the biomedical research workforce and utilizing biomedical data more effectively. Last week, the NIH proposed a broad implementation process for these initiatives that will undergo further clarification before being enacted in 2013.

“Fitch expects universities with significant NIH funding or entrenched research programs to have the ability to manage through the changes while less nimble entities will struggle to meet proposed guidelines,” the report said. “Additionally, Fitch believes institutions with proactive management teams and a focus on expanding their research programs within the healthcare sciences will be more likely to make these changes.”

If research institutions have problems implementing the changes, they could be faced with increased competition for program funding, Fitch said.

Some actions that the NIH is seeking to implement include improving diversity awareness through mentored research experiences and peer review, enhancing training for graduate students, and improving data and software sharing.

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