University of Texas asks Legislature for millions during 2023 session
The University of Texas is requesting millions of dollars from state lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session for cybersecurity programs, long COVID-19 research and development of a digital molten salt reactor.
Every two years before the session begins, public colleges and universities in Texas submit an appropriations request to the governor’s office and the Legislative Budget Board outlining their baseline funding requests for items such as faculty and staff salaries and infrastructure support.
In the requests, each school also typically asks for money for “exceptional items,” or special initiatives beyond what is outlined in the baseline funding. In previous years, UT has requested funding for items such as the Texas Advanced Computing Center, a viral pathogen testing network and a health innovation infrastructure pipeline.
For this year’s session, which begins Tuesday, UT is asking the Legislature for $25.8 million to create a hub for applied cybersecurity, $18.5 million for development of a digital molten salt reactor and $4 million for long COVID-19 research.
Here’s a breakdown of what UT is asking for:
Applied cybersecurity hub
The $25.8 million for the Texas Hub for Applied Cybersecurity would be used to teach students cybersecurity techniques and establish a diverse pipeline of cybersecurity professionals for the state, according to the request.
The program would offer a minor in applied cybersecurity, microcertifications and an apprenticeship in UT’s Information Security Office. It would also plan to address a projected annual shortage of 1.5 million cybersecurity positions and a lack of diversity in the field, where 27% of professionals are people of color and 25% are women.
“THAC would uniquely position students to not only develop deep experience in various cybersecurity fields, but it also allow them to serve and meaningfully interact with other entities in Texas that are being assisted with cybersecurity improvements (eg, municipalities and K-12 schools), ” the request said. “THAC would not only create a diverse, enduring pipeline for the most highly trained cybersecurity professionals available, but also directly contribute to the overall cybersecurity posture for the entire State of Texas.”
The cost breakdown includes $9.5 million for facility refitting costs, $2.7 million for technology infrastructure and $4.5 million for regional infrastructure startup costs. The estimated costs for curriculum development and infrastructure replenishment is $1.9 million for fiscal year 2024 and $3.9 million for fiscal year 2025.
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The estimated staffing and operating costs are $3.2 million, although the funding would eventually be offset by tuition and professional fees, according to the report. The program would have 27 employees at capacity, including 14 cybersecurity analysts and managers, 10 curriculum development and delivery staff members, and three regional network engineers.
The report estimates that the program would eventually support a minimum of 100 students in a single class, or 400 in a total rotation, and a minimum of 2,500 students completing training and certification programs per year. It also would provide cybersecurity services to a minimum of 100 nonprofit, state or local entities in Texas.
Digital molten salt reactor
UT is requesting $18.5 million for research and the creation of digital models of a molten salt reactor, which is a nuclear reactor that uses hot fluoride or chloride salt as fuel.
“State funding would kickstart proof-of-concept research and development of digital versions of every MSR component, and position UT Austin and its Texas partners to win a share of $100 million in annual federal funding and help Texas realize its potential as a leader in rapid deployment of reliable nuclear energy,” the request said.
According to the request, the reactor would provide Texas with on-demand electricity, water desalination, hydrogen production and other benefits. The project would also accelerate the ability to construct reactors throughout Texas, which could contribute to energy independence and job creation, the request said.
“Failure to fund this research could cause the state of Texas to miss a unique opportunity to become a leader in MSRs, a promising energy technology that is inherently safer than today’s existing nuclear reactors, and with numerous long-term benefits for Texas and the country ,” the request said.
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The costs of the project include $13.8 million for salaries and expenses for 32 employees in fiscal year 2024 and then 64 employees in fiscal year 2025, including faculty, researchers, graduate research assistants, and support and technical staff.
Other expenses include $2.2 million for computer hardware, software and laboratory equipment, and $2.5 million for partnerships with researchers at Texas A&M University and the other members of the Nuclear Engineering eXperimental Testing Research Alliance who are collaborating on the effort.
UT aims to leverage the state’s potential investment to win a share of $100 million in annual federal funding from the Department of Energy, which would support the research after the 2024-25 biennium, the request said.
Long COVID-19 research
UT is asking for a $4 million investment in the long COVID-19 clinic at Dell Medical School to help support research into the nature of long COVID and potential treatments.
According to the request, this funding would go toward performing research to discover causes of the disease, expanding the existing infrastructure to care for people with long COVID and carrying out clinical trials to identify treatments.
“The program will establish strict protocols to coordinate the evaluation of patients, specimen collection and analysis, and initialization of clinical research, all so that this collaborative approach can be easily replicated at additional clinical sites throughout Texas,” the request said.
There are no current treatments for long COVID, a syndrome in which symptoms of COVID-19, such as fatigue, depression, persistent shortness of breath, neurocognitive changes and anxiety last beyond the initial infection.
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“Long-COVID symptoms are often debilitating and a threat to the economic health of the state due to a crippled workforce,” the request said. “Not funding high-potential research into possible treatments may significantly inhibit the state’s ability to respond to this growing health crisis.”
About $2.7 million would support staffing and professional development costs for approximately 10 employees annually, and $1.3 million would fund laboratory reagents, equipment and other operating costs.
The request asks the state to fund the program through general revenue or available federal Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. Costs after the 2024-25 biennium would be supported by private and other non-state funds, the request said.