Chapter Overview

U.S. universities and colleges are key contributors to the nation’s S&E enterprise. The academic sector develops scientists and engineers through its education and training activities (see chapter 2, "Higher Education in Science and Engineering") and generates new knowledge and ideas through its research activities. Almost 60% of the nation’s basic research and about a third of its total research are carried out in academic institutions. The federal government has been and continues to be the major financial supporter of academic R&D, providing almost two-thirds of the funding in 2005. Other major funding sources are the institutions themselves, industry, and state and local government.

The allocation of the national academic R&D investment has been changing over time, with the share going to the life sciences growing substantially over the past several decades. This has prompted serious discussion about the appropriate distribution of funds across disciplines. The President’s FY 2008 R&D budget signals a goal to double federal funds for agencies supporting physical sciences and engineering research over the coming decade.

Doctoral S&E faculty in universities and colleges play a critical role in performing research and in ensuring a well-trained, diverse supply of S&E personnel for all sectors of the economy. Hiring of S&E doctorate holders into academic positions over the past decade suggests a relative decline in reliance on full-time tenure-track faculty positions in favor of other forms of employment. This shift is expected to continue as academia approaches a period of potentially increasing retirements because of its aging labor force. The demographic composition of new hires is likely to continue the trend toward more women and minorities that mirrors similar changes in the student population. Trends in foreign-born faculty and foreign graduate students, stabilizing after the events of September 11, 2001, remain uncertain because of the rapid development of higher education and research capacities in many countries and the growing international competition for highly skilled talent. All these changes will affect the composition and teaching and research roles of the future doctoral S&E faculty.

A measure of research output, the number of U.S. S&E articles published in the world’s leading S&E journals, recently began to increase after remaining flat for almost a decade. During that time, the number of articles by scientists in the European Union (EU) and several Asian countries grew strongly. As a result of these combined trends, the U.S. share of the world’s S&E article output has declined since the early 1970s. The number of influential articles from U.S. institutions, as measured by citation frequency, remained fairly flat, and as a result, the U.S. share of the world’s influential articles also declined. However, U.S. scientific publications remain influential relative to those of other countries.

Article output by the academic sector, which publishes most U.S. research articles, mirrored the overall U.S. trend, even though research inputs (specifically, academic R&D expenditures and research personnel) continued to increase. Both domestic and international collaboration have increased significantly over the past two decades as academic scientists and engineers collaborated extensively with colleagues in other U.S. sectors (federal and state government, industry, nonprofit institutions, and federally funded research and development centers) and abroad. The results of academic S&E research increasingly extend beyond articles to patents, which are an indicator of academic institutions’ efforts to protect the intellectual property derived from their inventions, technology transfer, and university-industry collaboration, and other related activities such as revenue-generating licenses and formation of startup companies.

To help provide a context for discussions about the organization, focus, and mission of U.S. universities and colleges, this chapter addresses key aspects of the academic R&D enterprise, including the level, field allocation, and institutional distribution of academic R&D funds; the state of research equipment and facilities at academic institutions; trends in the number and composition of the academic S&E doctoral labor force; and indicators of research outputs.

Chapter Organization

The first section of this chapter discusses the role of academia within the national R&D enterprise. This discussion is followed by an examination of trends in the financial resources provided for academic R&D, including identification of key funders and allocations of funds across both academic institutions and S&E fields. Because the federal government has been the primary source of support for academic R&D for more than half a century, the importance of selected agencies to both overall support and support for individual fields is explored in some detail. This section also presents data on changes in the distribution of funds among academic institutions and on the number of academic institutions that receive federal R&D support. It concludes with an examination of the status of two key elements of university research activities: equipment and infrastructure, including cyberinfrastructure.

The next section discusses trends in employment of academic doctoral scientists and engineers with special reference to research. Major trends examined include numbers of academic doctoral scientists and engineers, the types of institutions in which they are employed, the types of positions they hold, their research activities, and federal support for research. Differences between S&E faculty and non-S&E faculty and between doctoral and nondoctoral S&E faculty are taken into account. The section also examines shifts in faculty age structure, trends in retirement patterns, and demographic characteristics, including characteristics and employment patterns of recent doctorate holders entering academic positions and participation of women and minorities.

The chapter concludes with an analysis of trends in two types of research outputs: S&E articles, as measured by data from a set of journals covered by the Science Citation Index (SCI) and the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), and patents issued to U.S. universities. (A third major output of academic R&D, educated and trained personnel, is discussed in this chapter and chapter 2.) This section looks specifically at the volume of research (article counts), collaboration in the conduct of research (joint authorship), and use in subsequent scientific activity (citation patterns). It concludes with a discussion of academic patenting and some returns to academic institutions from their patents and licenses.

Right-click on image to save.