Financial Resources for Academic R&D

In 2006, U.S. academic institutions spent $48 billion on R&D. Since 2000, average annual growth in R&D was stronger for the academic sector than for any other R&D-performing sector.

  • Academic R&D reached about 0.4% of the gross domestic product in 2006.
  • Academic performers are estimated to account for 56% of U.S. basic research ($61 billion), about 33% of total (basic plus applied) research ($140 billion), and 14% of all R&D ($340 billion) estimated to have been conducted in the United States in 2006.

All reported sources of support for academic R&D (federal, industrial, state and local, and institutional) increased fairly continuously in absolute dollar terms between 1972 and 2000, even after adjusting for inflation. Beginning in 2001, funding from industry declined for 3 straight years but then rebounded between 2004 and 2006. Support from the federal government decreased in 2006 as funding growth failed to outpace inflation for the first time since 1982.

  • The federal government provided 63% of funding for academic R&D expenditures in 2006, representing substantial growth from the 58% share of support provided in 2000 but less than the 68% share supplied in 1972.
  • Institutions themselves contributed 19% of funds in 2006, compared with 12% in 1972.
  • Industry’s share of academic R&D support grew rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s, fluctuated around 7% of the total during the 1990s, and declined thereafter to 5% in 2003 as a result of absolute constant dollar declines in 2002 and 2003. Despite the recent increase in absolute dollars between 2004 and 2006, industry’s share remained at 5% in 2006.

Between 1996 and 2006, the distribution of academic R&D funds received by different S&E fields remained relatively constant, with the largest shift in the field of life sciences.

  • Only the life sciences and psychology (up 5.2 and 0.2 percentage points, respectively) saw their share of the academic R&D total increase between 1996 and 2006.
  • The share held by engineering decreased by 1.3 percentage points between 1996 and 2006 after having gained almost 5 percentage points overall between 1975 and 1996.
  • The fields of environmental sciences, mathematics, physical sciences, and social sciences experienced modest share declines between 1996 and 2006 (1.0, 0.1, 1.8, and 1.2 percentage points, respectively).
  • The social sciences experienced the largest decrease in share over the past three decades, dropping by more than half from 7.5% in 1975 to 3.6% in 2006.

The share of all academic R&D funded by the federal government varies significantly by field, and the fields of life sciences and psychology have seen the largest increases in their federal share in recent years.

  • The fields with the largest share of federally funded R&D in 2006 were the atmospheric sciences (80%), physics (75%), aeronautical/astronautical engineering (74%), and psychology (72%).
  • Economics (35%), political science (34%), and the agricultural sciences (32%) had the smallest shares of federal funding in 2006.
  • Between 1998 and 2004, the period in which federal policies doubled the R&D budget of the National Institutes of Health, the share of federally financed R&D funding for the life sciences increased rapidly, from 57% to 64%, and the share in psychology increased from 67% to 75%.

The historical concentration of academic R&D funds among the top research universities has remained relatively steady over the past 20 years.

  • In terms of total R&D funding, the share of all academic R&D expenditures received by the top 100 academic institutions decreased from 83% to 80% between 1986 and 1993 and has remained at that level through 2006.
  • Only 5 of the top 20 institutions in 1986 were not in the top 20 in 2006.

In 2006, although about $1.8 billion in current funds was spent on R&D equipment, the share of all annual R&D expenditures spent on research equipment continued a two-decade decline.

  • After reaching a high of 7% in 1985 and 1986, the share of R&D spent on equipment declined to 4% in 2006.
  • About 83% of equipment expenditures were concentrated in the life sciences (41%), engineering (24%), and the physical sciences (18%).
  • After more than doubling in constant 2000 dollars between 1985 and 2004, the life sciences subfields of medical and biological sciences experienced declines in equipment expenditures in 2005 and 2006. Engineering equipment expenditures also doubled between 1985 and 2005 but declined in 2006.

Research-performing colleges and universities continued to expand their stock of research space in FY 2005, but at a significantly slower rate than in the previous 2‑year period. In addition to the traditional "bricks and mortar" research infrastructure, "cyberinfrastructure" may be playing an increasingly important role in the conduct of S&E research.

  • In FY 2004–05, all S&E fields except for the earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences experienced increases in research space.
  • Based on current construction of new space and plans for new construction, the biological and medical sciences will continue to dominate the share of total research space and funds for new construction.
  • In FY 2005, 21% of academic institutions reported bandwidth of 1 gigabit or faster, and this percentage is estimated to increase to 30% in FY 2006.

Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in Academia

The size of the doctoral academic S&E workforce reached an estimated 274,200 in 2006 but grew more slowly than the number of S&E doctorate holders in other employment sectors. Full-time tenure-track faculty positions, although still the predominant employment mode, increased more slowly than postdoc and other full- and part-time positions, especially at research universities.

  • The academic share of all doctoral S&E employment dropped from 55% in 1973 to 45% in 2006.
  • The share of full-time faculty declined from 88% in the early 1970s to 72% in 2006. Other full-time positions rose to 14% of the total, and postdoc and part-time appointments stood at 9% and 6%, respectively.

The demographic composition of the academic doctoral labor force changed substantially between 1973 and 2006.

  • The number of women in academia increased more than eightfold, from 10,700 to about 90,700, raising their share from 9% to 33%.
  • The number of underrepresented minorities (blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives) rose about ninefold, from 2,400 to 22,400, but remain a small percentage (8%) of the S&E doctorate holders in academia.
  • The number of Asians/Pacific Islanders entering the academic S&E doctoral workforce, many of them foreign born, increased substantially, from 5,000 to about 38,800, raising their share from 4% to 14%.
  • The share of whites in the academic S&E doctoral workforce fell during the period from 91% to 78%; the white male share fell from about 83% to about 52%.

Foreign-born scientists and engineers are an increasing share of doctoral S&E faculty.

  • Foreign-born scientists and engineers were 28% of all full-time doctoral S&E faculty in 2003, up from 21% in 1992.
  • In the physical sciences, mathematics, computer sciences, and engineering, 47% of full-time doctoral S&E faculty in research institutions were foreign born, up from 38% in 1992.

The average age of the academic doctoral labor force has been rising during the past quarter century.

  • Both the mean age (42–48) and median age (40–48) increased almost monotonically between 1973 and 2006.
  • In 2006, a growing, albeit small, fraction of employment (6%) was made up of individuals age 65 or older.
  • Retirement rates remained relatively stable from 1993 to 2003.

A substantial academic researcher pool has developed outside the regular faculty ranks.

  • Postdocs and others in full-time nonfaculty positions constitute an increasing percentage of those doing research at academic institutions, having grown from 13% in 1973 to 27% in 2006. This change was especially pronounced in the 1990s.
  • The share of full-time doctoral S&E instructional faculty who are engaged primarily in research increased from 20% to 26% between 1992 and 2003.

In most fields, the percentage of academic researchers with federal support for their work was about the same in 2006 as it was in the late 1980s.

  • Among all academic S&E doctorate holders employed in academia, 47% received federal support in 2006, compared with 48% in 1989.
  • Among life scientists, the percentage of academic S&E doctorate holders with federal support dropped from 65% in 1989 to 58% in 2006, although the actual number reporting federal support increased during the period.
  • Full-time doctoral S&E faculty in the academic workforce were less likely to receive federal support (46%) than postdocs (71%).
  • Among full-time faculty, recent doctorate recipients were less likely to receive federal support than their more established colleagues.

Outputs of S&E Research: Articles and Patents

S&E article output worldwide grew at an average annual rate of 2.3% between 1995 and 2005, but the U.S. growth rate was much lower.

  • U.S. output grew 0.6% annually over the same period, compared with 1.8% for the European Union and 6.6% for a group of 10 Asian countries/economies (Asia-10), including China at 17% and South Korea at 16%.
  • The U.S. share of total world article output fell between 1995 and 2005, from 34% to 29%, as did the European Union share, which declined from 35% to 33%, whereas the Asia-10 share increased from 13% to 20%.

On a national basis, the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Germany dominated total S&E article output in both 1995 and 2005.

  • China advanced from 14th to 5th place overall, to 2nd place in engineering and chemistry, and to 3rd place in physics and mathematics.
  • South Korea, Brazil, and Turkey, not among the top 20 national producers in 1995, held 10th, 17th, and 19th place, respectively, in 2005.

S&E research is an increasingly collaborative activity. Between 1988 and 2005, the share of publications with authors from multiple institutions grew from 40% to 61%.

  • Coauthored articles with only domestic institutions in the bylines grew from 32% to 41% of all articles.
  • Articles with institutions from multiple countries—an indicator of international collaboration and the globalization of science—grew from 8% to 20%.

The United States has the largest share of all internationally authored articles, and U.S. researchers collaborate most often with counterparts in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

  • However, when U.S. international collaboration is normalized for the volume of its partner’s international coauthorship, only collaboration between the United States and Canada, Israel, South Korea, and Taiwan is more frequent than would be predicted.
  • Higher rates of research collaboration are to be found, for example, between Argentina and Brazil, South Korea and Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and among the Scandinavian countries.

Indicators of collaboration based on coauthorship among U.S. sectors and between U.S. sectors and foreign authors show that integration of R&D activities is occurring across the full range of R&D-performing institutions in the United States.

  • U.S. cross-sectoral coauthorship between all sectors except federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) and industry increased during the 1995–2005 period. The largest gains in all sectors were with coauthors in academia: By 2005, the percentage of articles with coauthors from academia was 71% for state/local government, 62% for private nonprofit institutions, and 59% for the federal government.
  • Between 1995 and 2005, coauthorship with foreign authors increased by 10 percentage points for authors in FFRDCs, industry, and private nonprofit institutions and by 9 percentage points for authors in the federal government and academia.
  • Of the S&E fields, astronomy had the highest rate of international coauthorship in 2005, at 58%, well above the U.S. national average of 27% across all fields.

Although the U.S. share of world article output and article citations has declined, the influence of U.S. research articles has increased, as indicated by the percentage of U.S. articles that are among the most highly cited worldwide.

  • In 1995, authors from U.S. institutions had 73% more articles in the top 1% of cited articles in all S&E fields than would be expected based on U.S. total article output; in 2005, the percentage had grown to 83%.
  • In 2005, the European Union had 16% fewer articles in the top 1% of cited articles than would be expected, and the Asia-10 had 59% fewer than would be expected. However, both the European Union and Asia-10 have advanced on this indicator since 1995.

Indicators of academic patenting are mixed. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) reports that patent grants to universities have declined since 2002, but other indicators suggest continued expansion of activities related to patents and patent/licensing revenues.

  • According to USPTO, patent grants to universities and colleges increased sharply from 1995 to about 2002, when they peaked at just under 3,300 patents per year, and then fell to about 2,700 in 2005. Three biomedically related patent classes continued to dominate these awards, accounting for more than one-third in 2005.
  • Other data indicate, however, that invention disclosures filed with university technology management offices grew from 13,700 in 2003 to 15,400 in 2005 and that patent applications filed by reporting universities and colleges increased from 7,200 in 2003 to 9,500 in 2004 and 9,300 in 2005.
  • University inventories of revenue-generating licenses and options also continued to grow, as did the annual number of new licenses and options executed. The annual number of startup companies established as a result of university-based inventions rebounded after 2 years of downturns in 2002 and 2003 to more than 400 in both 2004 and 2005.
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