U.S. universities and colleges continued to be important participants in U.S. R&D during the first decade of the 21st century, performing more than half the basic research nationwide and having a significant presence in applied research. Funding of academic R&D from all major sources and across all broad S&E fields continued to expand. Since 2000, average annual growth in R&D has been stronger for the academic sector than for any other R&D-performing sector. Both the overall academic S&E doctoral workforce and the academic research workforce have also continued to increase. Citation data indicate that U.S. scientific publications remain highly influential relative to those of other countries. However, the relative volume of U.S. article output has not kept up with the increasing outputs of the European Union and the Asia-10. In fact, the number of U.S. articles published in the world’s leading S&E journals has only recently begun to increase again after being essentially level since the early to mid-1990s.
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 increasing between 2000 and 2004, the federal government’s share of funding for academic R&D began to decrease in 2005 and again in 2006. In addition, for the first time since 1982, federal funding did not keep pace with inflation. 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 before rising again in both 2005 and 2006. The state and local share of support for academic R&D reached an all-time low in 2006. Research-performing universities have increased the amount of their own funds devoted to research every year since 1993.
The structure and organization of academic R&D have also changed. Research-performing colleges and universities continued to expand their stock of research space, particularly in the biological and medical sciences. However, spending on research equipment as a share of all R&D expenditures declined to an all-time low of 4.0% by 2006. 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 relative use of nonfaculty appointments. This shift has been marked by a substantial increase in the number of postdocs over a long period. These changes 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 risen.
A demographic shift in academic employment has also been under way, with increases in the proportion of women, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and underrepresented minorities in the S&E academic workforce. This shift is expected to continue into the future. Among degree holders who are U.S. citizens, white males have been 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.
Academic R&D is also becoming more international in a number of ways. U.S. academic scientists and engineers are collaborating extensively with colleagues in other countries: in 2005, more than one in four journal articles with a U.S. author also had at least one coauthor from abroad. The intimate linkage between research and U.S. graduate education, regarded as a model by other countries, helps to bring 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 full-time doctoral S&E faculty in research institutions approaching half the total in some fields.