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Federal Government is Largest Source of University R&D Funding in S&E; Share Drops in FY 2008

NSF 09-318 | September 2009 | PDF format. PDF  

by Ronda Britt[1]

The federal government remains the largest source of academic R&D funding; however, its share has dropped in recent years, from 64% in FY 2005 to 60% in FY 2008, according to FY 2008 data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges.[2] This level represents a return to the average share held by the federal government throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. In current dollars, federally funded academic R&D expenditures rose 2.5% in FY 2008 to $31.2 billion. After adjusting for inflation, this represents a 0.2% increase from FY 2007 and follows 2 years of real declines since FY 2005 (figure 1).

FIGURE 1. Science and engineering R&D expenditures at universities and colleges, by source of funds: FY 2000–08.

  Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

Overall, universities and colleges reported S&E R&D expenditures of $51.9 billion in FY 2008, 4.8% more than in the previous year (table 1). When adjusted for inflation, academic R&D rose by 2.3% in FY 2008.

TABLE 1. S&E R&D expenditures at universities and colleges: FY 2003–08.

  Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

Unless otherwise indicated, all references to dollar amounts or percentages for the remainder of this InfoBrief are in current dollars.

Nonfederal Sources of R&D Funding

Funding from all nonfederal sources combined grew by 8.3% in FY 2008. R&D expenditures financed by state and local government funding increased by 8.8% in FY 2008, and expenditures funded by industry (7.1%) and academic institution's own funds (7.0%) were also up.[3] Industry funding as a share of the total increased in recent years after a period of decline or no growth, reaching $2.9 billion in FY 2008 and 5.5% of total academic R&D funding.

Funding by Federal Agency

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the National Institutes of Health, historically has been the largest provider of federal R&D funding to universities and colleges. In FY 2008 HHS funding constituted 56% of total federally funded expenditures ($17.5 billion) and was concentrated within the medical and biological sciences (table 2). NSF was the next largest provider in FY 2008, funding $3.8 billion across numerous academic R&D fields. NSF was the largest single-agency funder of academic R&D in the environmental and physical sciences. The Department of Defense (DOD) provided $3.1 billion in FY 2008, almost half of it in support of engineering R&D.

TABLE 2. Federally funded R&D expenditures at universities and colleges, by S&E field and agency: FY 2008.

  Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

Funding by Field

Medical sciences ($17.3 billion) and biological sciences ($9.8 billion) once again accounted for more than one-half of all R&D at universities and colleges in FY 2008 (table 3). Each had modest increases of 4.3% and 5.9%, respectively, from FY 2007 totals. R&D spending in seven fields showed double-digit percentage increases between FY 2007 and 2008, led by astronomy at 15.9%. The field of atmospheric sciences showed the largest decline (-14.2%) between FY 2007 and FY 2008.

TABLE 3. R&D expenditures at universities and colleges, by S&E field: FY 2007–08.

  Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

Pass-through Funding

R&D funds for joint projects that were passed through primary university recipients to other university subrecipients about doubled from FY 2000 to FY 2008, from $0.7 billion to $1.4 billion in constant 2000 dollars (figure 2). The current dollar amount ($1.7 billion) represents 3.3% of total academic R&D expenditures in FY 2008, compared with 2.3% of the total in FY 2000. In FY 2008, 90% of these pass-through funds originated from federal sources.

FIGURE 2. Total and federally funded academic R&D passed through to or received by other universities: FY 2000–08.

  Figure 2 Source Data: Excel file

Universities receiving pass-through funds from other universities likewise reported a rapid increase in subrecipient R&D expenditures between FY 2000 and FY 2008, with over 90% of the funding originating from federal sources.

Top Academic Research Performers

Of the 690 institutions surveyed, the top 20 in terms of total S&E R&D expenditures accounted for 30% of total academic R&D spending (table 4). Three institutions within this group reported a decline in R&D expenditures from FY 2007 to FY 2008 (Duke University, Ohio State University, and the University of Florida). Washington University in St. Louis was not included among the top 20 for the first time since FY 1999. With a reported spending decline of $9 million between 2007 and 2008, it fell 3 spots to number 21 with $564 million. Replacing it was Texas A&M University, which moved from number 22 in FY 2007 to number 20 in FY 2008. The institutions constituting the top 5 have remained the same since FY 2004.

TABLE 4. Twenty institutions reporting the largest FY 2008 R&D expenditures in S&E fields: FY 2007–08.

  Table 4 Source Data: Excel file

Public institutions spent a total of $35.3 billion on R&D in FY 2008, with 55% funded by the federal government (table 5). The University of California San Francisco was the largest R&D-performing public institution in FY 2008, spending $834 million, or 94% of its $885 million total, in the field of medical sciences.

TABLE 5. Total and federally funded R&D expenditures in S&E fields at the 20 public universities and colleges that led in total R&D: FY 2008.

  Table 5 Source Data: Excel file

Private institutions spent $16.6 billion on R&D in FY 2008, with 72% funded by the federal government (table 6). The Johns Hopkins University remains the largest R&D-performing institution both among private institutions and overall, with $1.7 billion in R&D expenditures in FY 2008.

TABLE 6. Total and federally funded R&D expenditures in S&E fields at the 20 private universities and colleges that led in total R&D: FY 2008.

  Table 6 Source Data: Excel file

Non-S&E R&D Expenditures

Academic institutions spent a total of $2.2 billion on R&D in non-S&E fields in FY 2008 (table 7).[4] This amount is in addition to the $51.9 billion expended on S&E R&D. The largest amounts reported for individual non-S&E fields were in education ($880 million), business and management ($325 million), and humanities ($254 million). The top 20 performers of non-S&E R&D accounted for 36% of the total non-S&E R&D expenditures in FY 2008. Purdue University, ranked 36th in S&E R&D expenditures, held the number one spot in FY 2008 non-S&E R&D with $65 million. The University of South Florida was at number two for the second year in a row with $64 million.

TABLE 7. Twenty institutions reporting the largest non-S&E R&D expenditures, by non-S&E field: FY 2008.

  Table 7 Source Data: Excel file

Data Comments and Availability

The academic R&D expenditures data presented in this InfoBrief were obtained from 690 universities and colleges that grant degrees in the sciences or engineering and expended at least $150,000 in S&E R&D in the survey period. The amounts reported include all funds expended for S&E activities specifically organized to produce research outcomes and sponsored by an outside organization or separately budgeted using institution funds. Non-S&E R&D expenditures are reported separately in the survey and are not included in the overall R&D expenditure totals. For a complete listing of the fields included under the S&E and non-S&E categories, refer to the FY 2008 survey questionnaire, available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/question.cfm#12.

Data reported on non-S&E R&D expenditures are 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 spend at least $150,000 on S&E R&D (but may conduct substantial amounts of non-S&E R&D) are not reflected here.

NSF makes available 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 and three other NSF academic S&E surveys: the Survey of Federal Science and Engineering Support to Universities, Colleges, and Nonprofit Institutions; the Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering; and the Survey of Earned Doctorates. Data from the four 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 (http://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/webcaspar/).

The full set of detailed tables from this survey will be available in the report Academic Research and Development Expenditures: Fiscal Year 2008 at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/rdexpenditures/. Individual detailed tables from the 2008 survey may be available in advance of publication of the full report. For further information, please contact the author.


[1]  Ronda Britt, Research and Development Statistics Program, Division of Science Resources Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (rbritt@nsf.gov; 703-292-7765).

[2] Fiscal year throughout this report is the academic fiscal year. For most institutions this is 1 July 2007 through 30 June 2008; thus, these data show spending that occurred before the downturn in economic conditions that intensified in late 2008. The effect of this crisis and the subsequent recession on academic R&D spending will not be seen until FY 2009 data are reported. Also, most of the increase in R&D expenditures due to American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding will not be seen until the FY 2010 data.

[3] Figures reported for state and local government support of academic R&D exclude general-purpose funds that schools receive from these sources and devote to R&D activities. These funds are included in figures reported as institutional funds.

[4]  Only institutions reporting S&E R&D expenditures are surveyed for non-S&E R&D spending. See "Data Comments and Availability."

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics
Federal Government is Largest Source of University R&D Funding in S&E;
Share Drops in FY 2008

Arlington, VA (NSF 09-318) [September 2009]

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