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Chapter 5. Academic Research and Development


Chapter Overview

U.S. academic institutions prepare the next generation of science, engineering, and mathematics professionals and conduct about half of the nation’s basic research, giving them a central position in the nation’s research and development system.

This chapter reports trends in academic R&D inputs—funding, infrastructure, and personnel—and academic R&D outputs—journal articles, citations to these articles, and various patent-based measures. (An additional major output of academic R&D, educated and trained personnel, is discussed in chapter 2.) Throughout the chapter, two key trends are explored: a generally stable distribution of academic R&D resources across different types of institutions, and a continuous increase in collaboration in research and research outputs. The consistent distribution of academic resources is evident in the relatively stable pattern of R&D expenditures over time among the major categories of colleges and universities as well as the primacy of certain fields and agencies in the funding for research and research infrastructure. Growing research collaboration is seen in increases in the amount of funds that universities pass through to others and in articles that are authored by more than one department, institution, sector, or country.

Chapter Organization

The first section of this chapter examines trends in spending and funding for academic R&D, identifies key funders of academic R&D, and describes the allocation of funds across academic institutions and S&E fields. Because the federal government has been the primary source of funding for academic R&D for more than half a century, the section highlights the importance of federal-agency support both historically and more recently, as universities have spent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funds. This section highlights new data from the Higher Education Research and Development Survey (HERD) covering 2010–12, including improved information on the distribution of academic R&D among basic research, applied research, and development. This section also includes new data on R&D collaboration, as evidenced by the growth of pass-through funding arrangements.

The chapter’s second section summarizes data on infrastructure for academic R&D. The section reports on current trends in academic research facilities, research equipment, and cyberinfrastructure. These trends include changes, by field, in research space and equipment as well as data on universities’ access to high-performance computing (HPC) and networking resources.

The third section discusses trends in the employment of doctoral scientists and engineers working in academia. Major trends examined include the numbers of doctoral scientists and engineers who are academically employed, their changing demographic composition, and the types of positions they hold. The section further examines employment patterns in the different segments of the academic workforce that are engaged in research, especially full-time faculty, postdoctorates (postdocs), and graduate research assistants. In addition, the section reports data on academic scientists and engineers receiving research support from the federal government. A central theme in this section is that whether looking across 15–20 years or across four decades, the academically employed S&E workforce, like the S&E workforce throughout the economy, has changed substantially.

The fourth and final section of this chapter analyzes trends in two types of research outputs: S&E articles, which are largely (but not exclusively) produced by the academic sector, and patents issued to U.S. universities. This section first compares the volume of S&E articles for selected regions, countries, and economies, focusing (when appropriate) on patterns and trends in articles by U.S. academic researchers. Trends in coauthored articles, both across U.S. sectors and internationally, are indicators of increasing collaboration in S&E research. Trends in production of influential articles, as measured by the frequency with which articles are cited, are examined, with emphasis on international comparisons. The analysis of academic patenting activities examines patents, licenses, and income from these as forms of academic R&D output. Patent citations to the S&E literature are also examined, with emphasis on citations in awarded patents for clean energy and related technologies.