Academic R&D is a key component of the overall U.S. R&D enterprise. Academic scientists and engineers conduct the bulk of the nation’s basic research and are especially important as a source of the new knowledge that basic research produces. Indicators tracking the status of the financial resources, research facilities, and instrumentation that are used in this work are discussed in this and the next section of the chapter (for an overview of the sources of data used, see sidebar, “Data on the Financial and Infrastructure Resources for Academic R&D”).
Expenditures by U.S. colleges and universities on R&D in all fields totaled $65.8 billion in 2012 (appendix table
One-time ARRA funding was responsible for a sizable amount of academic R&D expenditures from 2010 to 2012 (over $9.3 billion). ARRA expenditures peaked in 2011 at $4.2 billion. In 2010 and 2012, they were similar—around $2.5 billion in each of these years (table
A methodological change also contributed to the growth in reported academic R&D expenditures in recent years. As a result of a more extensive screening effort during the first year of the redesigned HERD survey to include institutions with substantial non-S&E R&D, 170 institutions were added to the survey population. The additional universities accounted for $533 million in total R&D expenditures in FY 2011.
Academic R&D spending is primarily for basic research—in 2012, 64% was spent on basic research, 27% was spent on applied research, and 9% was spent on development (table
Academic institutions spent a total of $3.5 billion on R&D in non-S&E fields in FY 2012, an increase of 7% (before adjusting for inflation) over the $3.3 billion spent in 2011 (table
Academic R&D relies on funding support from a variety of sources, including the federal government, universities’ and colleges’ own institutional funds, state and local government, business, and other organizations (appendix table
The federal government provided $38.9 billion (63%) of the $62.3 billion of academic spending on S&E R&D in FY 2012 (figure
Federal expenditures for S&E academic R&D increased more from 2009 to 2012 (4.5% inflation-adjusted annual growth rate) than they did from 2005 to 2008 (–0.6% inflation-adjusted annual growth rate). The higher growth rates in later years largely reflect ARRA expenditures. Universities reported $4.2 billion in expenditures funded by ARRA in FY 2011 and an additional $2.4 billion in ARRA expenditures in FY 2012 (table
Basic research activities represented 65% of federal expenditures for academic R&D in FY 2012 (table
Six agencies are responsible for the vast majority of annual federal expenditures for academic R&D: the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in particular, the National Institutes of Health (NIH); the National Science Foundation (NSF); the Department of Defense (DOD); the Department of Energy (DOE); the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). In federal FY 2012, these six agencies represented over 92% of the estimated $38.9 billion federal expenditures for academic S&E R&D (appendix table
Among these six agencies, HHS is by far the largest funder, providing about 56% of total federal academic S&E R&D expenditures in FY 2012. NSF and DOD follow HHS, each providing between 12% and 13%; DOE, NASA, and USDA provided smaller shares of between 3% and 5% of total federal academic S&E R&D expenditures in FY 2012. From 2003 to 2012, the relative ranking of the top six funding agencies in terms of academic S&E R&D expenditures has remained relatively stable (table
The federal government’s overall support for academic R&D is the combined result of numerous discrete funding decisions made by the R&D-supporting federal agencies, with input from the White House and Congress. Varying missions, priorities, and objectives affect the level of funds that universities and colleges receive as well as how they are spent. Broad geographic distribution of academic research capability and federal funding of academic R&D is one such objective. The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) is a long-standing, multiagency federal program that seeks to increase the geographical dispersion of federal support for academic R&D. An overview of the program and recent statistics on its activities are presented in the sidebar “Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.”
Notwithstanding the continuing dominant federal role in academic S&E R&D funding, nonfederal funding sources have also grown steadily over the past 15 years (figure
Investment in academic S&E R&D is distributed across eight broad fields, including life sciences, engineering, physical sciences, environmental sciences, social sciences, computer sciences, psychology, and mathematical sciences (appendix table
Within life sciences, medical sciences accounted for 55% of the total academic R&D; biological sciences accounted for another 31%. Adjusted for inflation, academic R&D expenditures in medical sciences almost doubled from FY 1999 to FY 2011 (figure
The other broad fields of S&E experienced different rates of growth in recent years. Growth in inflation-adjusted academic R&D expenditures from FY 1999 to FY 2012 was greater in engineering (82%) than in environmental sciences (35%), physical sciences (37%), or social sciences (29%). Inflation-adjusted expenditures for computer sciences and mathematical sciences increased by from 50% to 60% from FY 1999 to FY 2012, and expenditures for psychology doubled, although the growth in these fields started at lower bases than the other broad fields of S&E (figure
Agencies differ in the extent to which they focus funds on various fields of S&E (figure
Federal funding has played a larger role in overall support for some fields than others (appendix table
The federally financed proportion of R&D spending in all of the broad S&E fields has generally been stable or has increased since 1990. This reverses the trend between 1975 and 1990, when the federal share had declined in all the broad fields.
The prior discussion examined R&D for the academic sector as a whole. This section discusses some of the differences in S&E R&D conducted by public and private universities and colleges. Although public and private universities rely on the same major sources of S&E R&D funding, the importance of the different sources varies substantially (figure
In FY 2012, public institutions spent $41.6 billion in academic S&E R&D, and private institutions spent $20.6 billion, about one-half as much (appendix table
The federal government provided the majority of the S&E R&D funds that public and private institutions spent on R&D in FY 2012 (just under 60% and just over 70%, respectively). Public institutions received around 7% of their S&E R&D funds from state and local governments, while private institutions received a little less than 2%.
At both public and private academic universities, institutions’ own funds were a significant source of support for S&E R&D expenditures. Public academic institutions supported a larger portion of their S&E R&D from their own sources—22%, compared to 13% at private institutions. This larger proportion of institutional R&D funds in public institutions may reflect the general-purpose state and local government funds that public institutions directed toward R&D. Private institutions, in contrast, reported a larger proportion of unrecovered indirect costs (43% of their institutional total in FY 2012 versus 31% for public institutions). Private institutions also reported a larger proportion of cost sharing (14% of their institutional total in FY 2012 versus 8% for public institutions).
Public and private institutions both received 5%–6% of their R&D support from business in FY 2012. Nonprofit organizations funded 5.5% of total R&D expenditures in public institutions and 7.4% in private institutions. Funding from all other sources was less than 2% in both public and private institutions.
Academic R&D expenditures are concentrated in a relatively small number of institutions. In FY 2012, 907 out of a total of approximately 2,250 baccalaureate-, master’s-, and doctorate-granting institutions reported spending at least $150,000 on R&D. Of these, the top-spending 20 institutions accounted for 31% of total academic S&E R&D spending, and the top-spending 100 institutions accounted for 79% of this spending. Although there were slight shifts in the share of academic S&E R&D expenditures accounted for by the top 20 and top 100 institutions in recent years, the relative shares have been remarkably stable over the past two decades (figure
Research collaboration involving multiple institutions is a growing trend. Contributing to this growth are federal initiatives to encourage collaborative research and also technological advances that facilitate communication and provide opportunities to mobilize specialized skills beyond the capacity of an individual institution. Opportunities to share risk and increase research credibility have also contributed to the growth of collaborative R&D (Cummings and Kiesler 2007). Academic R&D collaboration is notably evident in the growth of jointly authored research articles (for details, see the section “Outputs of Academic S&E Research: Articles and Patents” in this chapter).
This trend is also evident in flows of funds among institutions to support collaborative research activities. One measure of this research collaboration is the amount of total expenditures for R&D that universities pass through to others, including academic institutions and other entities. Available data on pass-through funding encompass S&E R&D from 2000 to 2009 and total R&D (including non-S&E as well as S&E funds) from 2010 to 2012. As with overall academic R&D funding, pass-through funding arrangements are heavily concentrated in the most research-intensive institutions.
Between FY 2000 and FY 2009, pass-through funding for collaborative projects among universities and colleges grew more rapidly (although from a much lower base) than the decade’s growth in overall academic R&D expenditures (appendix table
The federal government contributed extensively to the growth in pass-through funding from FY 2000 to FY 2009. Almost 90% of all pass-through funds that universities provided to other universities came from federal funds during this decade (figure
From 2010 to 2012, pass-through funding continued to increase. The federal government continues to be the major provider of pass-through funds; in FY 2012, it was the source for over 85% of all pass-through funds provided or received (tables
The growth in pass-through funding has been accompanied by changing research practices, seen particularly in the growth of larger research teams, including many that span multiple disciplines, and in increasing numbers of coauthored articles (discussed later in this chapter in the section “Outputs of Academic S&E Research: Articles and Patents”). Although interdisciplinary research is widely viewed as a growing trend in academic S&E R&D, developing a generally agreed-on concept of interdisciplinary research and measuring how it has grown have proven to be challenging. (See the sidebar “Can Bibliometric Data Provide Accurate Indicators of Interdisciplinary Research?” in Science and Engineering Indicators 2010 [NSB 2010:5–35].) Efforts have been undertaken to measure the extent to which interdisciplinary research involves closely related versus dissimilar fields. For example, Porter and Rafols (2009) suggest that article citations are mainly distributed among closely related disciplinary areas, reflecting relatively modest increases in interdisciplinarity over the past 30–40 years.