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Universities Report Stalled Growth in Federal R&D Funding in FY 2006

NSF 07-336 | September 2007 | PDF format PDF  

Federal funding for research and development in academic science and engineering (S&E) fields failed to outpace inflation in FY 2006, according to university-reported data collected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges. Federally funded academic R&D expenditures rose 2.9% in FY 2006 to $30.0 billion. When adjusted for inflation, this represents a 0.1% decline from FY 2005 (figure 1).[1] The federal government remains the largest source of academic R&D funding, on average accounting for over 60% of total R&D expenditures since FY 1972. In constant 2000 dollars federal funding for academic R&D has increased an average of 5.5% each year since the last inflation-adjusted decline in federally funded expenditures, in FY 1982.

FIGURE 1. Federally funded science and engineering R&D expenditures at universities and colleges: FY 1972–2006.

  Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

Overall, universities and colleges reported S&E R&D expenditures of $47.8 billion in FY 2006, 4.3% more than in the previous year ($45.8 billion) (table 1). When adjusted for inflation, academic R&D rose by 1.2% in FY 2006.

TABLE 1. Science and engineering R&D expenditures at universities and colleges: FY 2001–06.

  Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

Other Sources of R&D Funding

R&D expenditures financed by state and local government funding also failed to outpace inflation and grew by only 2.5% in FY 2006, to $3.0 billion.[2] Industry funding continued to rise for the second year in a row after a 3-year decline between FY 2002 and FY 2004, growing 5.8% to $2.4 billion in FY 2006. The most significant gain occurred in funding originating from institutions, which increased 9.7% in FY 2006 to $9.1 billion. Funding from all other sources combined (nonprofit organizations and other nongovernmental entities) increased 4.2% to $3.2 billion.

Funding by Federal Agency

According to the surveyed institutions, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including its National Institutes of Health, continues to provide the majority of the federal government's funding to universities and colleges. In FY 2006 HHS contributed 57% of the total federal funding ($17.1 billion), primarily in support of the medical and biological sciences (table 2). NSF provided the second largest amount of federal funding ($3.6 billion) and was the largest contributor for R&D in the computer, environmental, mathematical, and physical sciences.

TABLE 2.�Federally financed R&D expenditures at universities and colleges, by science and engineering field and agency: FY 2006.

  Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

Top Academic Research Performers

Of the 650 institutions surveyed, the top 20 in terms of total R&D expenditures accounted for 30% of total academic R&D spending (table 3). The top 100 research performers accounted for 80% of all R&D dollars in FY 2006. These proportions have varied little during the past two decades.[3]

TABLE 3.��Twenty institutions reporting the largest FY 2006 academic R&D expenditures in science and engineering fields: FY 2005–06.

  Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

Columbia University in the City of New York, a newcomer to the top 20 in FY 2005, moved to 22nd in FY 2006. Replacing it was the University of Arizona, which climbed from 27th to 20th in FY 2006 with an increase of $6 million. The University of Florida has risen 10 spots over the past 2 years, from 27th in FY 2004 ($447 million) to 17th in FY 2006 ($565 million). Three institutions remained in the top 20 despite reporting lower total R&D expenditures in FY 2006: the University of Michigan, Stanford University, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Funding by Field

Medical sciences ($15.8 billion) and biological sciences ($9.0 billion) once again accounted for more than one-half of all R&D at universities and colleges in FY 2006 (table 4). These two fields consistently have held the largest field shares of academia's R&D performance total throughout the survey's history. The following fields showed the largest percentage increases for FY 2006: sciences not elsewhere classified, a category reserved for difficult-to-classify multidisciplinary projects (14.6%); physical sciences not elsewhere classified (14.6%); bioengineering/biomedical engineering (13.5%); mechanical engineering (12.0%); and atmospheric sciences (11.0%). The only field experiencing a significant decrease was aeronautical/astronautical engineering. Spending in this field declined 13.5% in FY 2006. Bioengineering/biomedical engineering R&D has been the fastest growing field over the past 5 years, more than doubling since FY 2001 ($213 million) to $476 million in FY 2006.

TABLE 4.�R&D expenditures at universities and colleges, by science and engineering field: FY 2005–06.

  Table 4 Source Data: Excel file

Passed-Through Funds

A total of $3.1 billion in R&D expenditures was passed through to subrecipients in FY 2006 for collaboration on R&D projects, and institutions reported receiving a total of $3.6 billion as subrecipients on joint projects (table 5). Academic R&D expenditures passed through to higher education subrecipients increased by $73 million from FY 2005 to FY 2006, whereas expenditures passed through to non-higher education subrecipients increased by $113 million. Almost 90% ($1.5 billion) of the funds passed through to higher education subrecipients and 83% ($0.9 billion) of the funds passed through to non-higher education subrecipients were from federal sources.

TABLE 5.�Science and engineering R&D expenditures passed through to subrecipients and received as a subrecipient: FY 2005–06.

  Table 5 Source Data: Excel file

Universities also reported an increase of $100 million in R&D expenditures received as a subrecipient from higher education pass-through entities from FY 2005 to FY 2006, whereas R&D expenditures received as a subrecipient from non-higher education entities increased $212 million.[4] Nearly 92% ($1.5 billion) of the funds received from higher education pass-through entities and 87% ($1.5 billion) of the funds received from non-higher education entities originated from federal sources.

Non-S&E R&D Expenditures

Academic institutions spent a total of $1.9 billion on R&D in non-S&E fields in FY 2006 (table 6). (Only institutions reporting S&E R&D expenditures are surveyed for non-S&E R&D spending; see "Data Notes.") The largest amounts reported for individual non-S&E fields were in education ($817 million), business and management ($248 million), and humanities ($214 million). Similar to the top institutions in S&E R&D spending, the top 20 performers of non-S&E R&D accounted for 35% of the total non-S&E R&D expenditures in FY 2006. The University of Wisconsin, Madison, ranked 2nd in S&E R&D expenditures, holds the number one spot for non-S&E R&D in FY 2006 at $73 million. Six other institutions within the top 20 are also in the top 20 for S&E R&D expenditures: the University of Michigan (7th), the University of Florida (8th), the University of Washington (10th), the University of California, Los Angeles (11th), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (16th), and the University of Pennsylvania (19th).

TABLE 6. Twenty institutions reporting the largest academic�R&D expenditures in non-science and engineering fields: FY 2006.

  Table 6 Source Data: Excel file

Data Notes

The academic R&D expenditures data presented in this InfoBrief were obtained from 650 universities and colleges that granted degrees in the sciences or engineering and expended at least $150,000 in S&E R&D in the survey period. The survey collects the separately budgeted R&D expenditures within S&E fields reported by universities and colleges. This includes all funds expended for S&E activities specifically organized to produce research outcomes and commissioned by an agency either external to the institution or separately budgeted by an organizational unit within the institution. Non-S&E expenditures are reported separately in the survey and are not included in the overall expenditure totals. For a complete listing of the fields included under the S&E and non-S&E categories, refer to the FY 2006 survey questionnaire.

Universities have been asked to identify specific agency sources of federal funding since FY 2003. In FY 2006 virtually all (99.9%) of the $30.0 billion federal total was identified by agency source. However, the data for this item still represent slightly lower-bound estimates of agencies' actual support totals for FY 2006 because NSF did not attempt to allocate the undistributed amounts to individual agencies.

Data reported on non-S&E R&D expenditures are also lower-bound estimates for the national totals because NSF did not attempt to estimate for nonresponse on this item. Also, only institutions that conducted at least $150,000 of S&E R&D were surveyed. The activities of institutions that do not perform S&E R&D (but may conduct substantial amounts of non-S&E R&D) are not reflected here.

NSF makes available computer-generated institutional profiles for institutions of higher education with S&E departments that grant master's degrees or higher (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/profiles/). The profiles contain data from this survey as well as from two other NSF academic S&E surveys: the Survey of Federal Science and Engineering Support to Universities, Colleges, and Nonprofit Institutions and the Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. Data from the three surveys are available on the Web at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ and through the NSF WebCASPAR database system, a Web tool for retrieval and analysis of institutional data on academic S&E resources.

The full set of detailed tables from this survey will be available in the report Academic Research and Development Expenditures: Fiscal Year 2006 at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/rdexpenditures/. Individual detailed tables from the 2006 survey may be available in advance of publication of the full report. For further information, contact

Ronda Britt
Research and Development Statistics Program
Division of Science Resources Statistics
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965
Arlington, VA 22230



[1]  Preliminary NSF estimates of federal R&D funding to universities generated for the annual publication National Patterns of R&D Resources did not reflect such a major slowing in support.

[2]  Schools report general-purpose funds received from state and local governments as institutional support.

[3]  See Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 figure 5-12 (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/c5/fig05-12.htm).

[4]  Amounts reported as passed through to higher education subrecipients do not equal amounts reported as received by those subrecipients due to differences in the item response rates for these two survey questions each year.

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics
Universities Report Stalled Growth in Federal R&D Funding in FY 2006
Arlington, VA (NSF 07-336) [September 2007]

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