Chapter 5: Academic Research and Development


Strengths combined with emerging challenges characterize the position of academic R&D in the United States during the first decade of the 21st century. U.S. universities and colleges continued to be an important participant in the U.S. R&D enterprise, performing nearly half the basic research nationwide and having a significant presence in applied research. Funding of academic R&D continues to expand. The size of both the overall academic S&E doctoral workforce and the academic research workforce continues to increase. Citation data indicate that U.S. scientific publications remain influential relative to those of other countries. However, the volume of U.S. article output has not kept up either with the increases in academic R&D funding and research personnel or with the increasing outputs of the EU-15 and several East Asian countries. In fact, the number of U.S. articles published in the world's leading S&E journals has essentially been level since the early to mid-1990s, a trend that remains unexplained.

Although funding for academic R&D has been increasing, a number of shifts in funding sources have occurred, the long-term implications of which are uncertain. After declining for many years in relative share, although not in absolute dollars, the federal government's role in funding academic. R&D has begun to increase. Research-performing universities have also increased the amount of their own funds devoted to research. Industry support for academic R&D, after growing faster than any other source of support through the turn of the century, declined in real absolute.dollars for 3 successive years. The share of state and local support for academic R&D reached an all-time low in 2003.

The structure and organization of the academic R&D enterprise have also changed. Research-performing colleges and universities continue to expand their stock of research space and are investing substantially greater amounts in constructing research space than in previous years. However, spending on research equipment as a share of all R&D expenditures declined to an all-time low of 4.5% by 2003. With regard to personnel, a researcher pool has grown, independent of growth in the faculty ranks, as academic employment continued a long-term shift toward greater use of nonfaculty appointments. The shift has been marked by a substantial increase in the number of postdocs over a long period, although the number began to decline during the past several.years. These changes have occurred during a period in which both the median age of the academic workforce and the percentage of that workforce age 65 or older have been rising.

A demographic shift in academic employment has also been occurring, with increases in the shares of women, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and underrepresented minorities. This shift is expected to continue into the future. Among degree holders who are U.S. citizens, white males were earning a decreasing number of S&E doctorates. On the other hand, the number of S&E doctorates earned by U.S. women and members of minority groups has been increasing, and these new doctorate holders were more likely to enter academia than white males. A more demographically diverse faculty, by offering more varied role models, may attract students from a broader range of backgrounds to S&E careers.

The academic R&D enterprise is also becoming more globalized in a number of ways. U.S. academic scientists and engineers are collaborating extensively with international colleagues: in 2003, one U.S. journal article in four had at least one international coauthor. The intimate linkage between research and U.S. graduate education, regarded as a model by other countries, helps to lure large numbers of foreign students to the United States, many of whom stay after graduation. Academia has also been able to attract many talented foreign-born scientists and engineers into its workforce, with the percentage of foreign-born degree holders approaching half the total in some fields. However, tighter visa and immigration restrictions instituted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, may have complicated the prospects for current and future foreign students and scientists living in the United States.

Intersectoral collaboration within the United States is also increasing, particularly between universities and industry. Academic articles are increasingly cited in U.S. patents, attesting to the usefulness of academic research in producing economic benefits. Academic patenting and licensing continue to increase. Academic licensing and option revenues are growing, as are spinoff companies, and universities are increasingly moving into equity positions to maximize their economic returns. As a result, questions have arisen about the changing nature of academic research, the uses of its results, and the broader implications of closer ties between academia and industry.

National Science Board.