Chapter 5:

Academic Research and Development: Financial and Personnel Resources, Integration With Graduate Education, and Outputs


Chapter Background

The academic research and development (R&D) enterprise has enjoyed strong growth for the past decade but is facing some issues arising partly from its own success, partly from changes in its environment.

The nation's universities and colleges continue to perform more than half of U.S. basic research. Though faced with severe financial pressures, their own R&D funds are nearing one-fifth of their total R&D expenditures. At the same time, industry relies increasingly on academic R&D. There is more collaboration between industrial and academic researchers, and patent citing to academic publications is increasing. Industry support has grown, but remains well below 10 percent of the total funding of research in academia; furthermore, industry funding cannot be expected to become a mainstay of academic research funding.

The Federal Government continues to provide the majority of academic R&D support. Three agencies provide the bulk of these funds-the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Defense (DOD). NSF and DOD together provide much of the nation's R&D support for the physical and computer sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

Demographic projections point to the potential for strong enrollment growth over the next decade and the continuation of several trends: more minority participation, more older students, more nontraditional students. Foreign graduate students, however, may attend U.S. institutions in lesser numbers.[1] In this context, and driven by financial and other pressures, universities and colleges will continue to debate questions about their focus and mission. These discussions will take place against the backdrop of faculty retirements. An unresolved question is the extent and nature of replacement hiring into tenure-track faculty positions versus other, more temporary, appointments.

Urgent questions about the nature of graduate education are being raised. Is the current model the appropriate one, or should training allow for broader and more varied application of skills in the marketplace? Should students be given more autonomy from their professors, perhaps by way of restructuring their modes of support? What is the appropriate role for the Federal Government in this support? Continued increases in the number of foreign students, vital for many graduate programs, cannot be taken for granted. Thus, issues about the nature of graduate education join with questions of university missions and program organization.

The research universities are valued as a national resource. They educate and train large proportions of the nation's scientists and engineers, embody the model of integrated graduate training and research, and conduct much of the nation's basic research. Yet they face difficult questions. Is the nature of their graduate training up to the task of developing a high-quality yet flexible workforce of scientists and engineers? Is it driven too much by research? Is their research enterprise too insular, too driven by its own dynamic or external demands from the Federal Government or industry? Does it cost too much? How can research be better connected to undergraduate education? Other universities increasingly face these same questions, as the growth of the research function continues in institutional segments that have not traditionally been considered among the research universities.

Answers to these and other questions will emerge gradually, as individual institutions respond to the challenges and opportunities they perceive. The nation's universities and colleges have shown great ability to adapt to changed realities. In time, it will become possible to take stock of the changes and assess their extent. Many issues underlying these changes will persist, as higher education institutions try to find the appropriate balance among their many functions. (See "Developments Impinging on Academia.") [Skip Text Box]

Developments Impinging on Academia top

The nation's universities and colleges are facing changes in finances, enrollment, faculty, and environment whose eventual results cannot be foreseen with any degree of confidence. Cost pressures seem unabated; state funding to public institutions may benefit from a strong economy but faces competition from other uses. Overall enrollment in the nation's four-year colleges and universities declined somewhat in the early 1990s after rising during the preceding decade. However, the U.S. Department of Education projects rising numbers of students at U.S. universities and colleges over the coming decade or more, based on demographic projections and assumptions about cohort participation rates in higher education. The available evidence suggests that the racial/ethnic makeup of the student body will continue to change, and that women will continue to make inroads into fields that they have not traditionally entered. The number of foreign students, long a mainstay for many graduate programs in science and engineering, may decline as other countries develop their own programs. Faculty retirements are expected to rise, based on the age structure; but institutions' responses to this situation are not clear. Replacement hiring may take place, or some portion of the teaching burden may be shifted to temporary or nonfaculty employees. Media-based teaching and learning developments might affect the roles of teachers and of higher education institutions-and might perhaps even affect enrollments. State governments are looking at universities as regional economic development engines and sources of innovation, and the institutions themselves pay increasing attention to these types of activities.

Current discussions about university roles, structures, and priorities will need to take account of these and other factors. It is difficult to predict with any degree of precision the course of any one of these factors, much less their combined impacts on the future shape of the U.S. higher education enterprise as set in an increasingly skill-based society.

This chapter addresses several key aspects of the academic R&D enterprise including financial resources, physical infrastructure, science and engineering (S&E) doctoral employment, the integration of research and graduate education, and research outputs. The questions raised in the preceding discussion are difficult ones to resolve and relate to highly complex issues. This chapter, while not providing definitive answers to these questions, does provide data trends and analysis to assist decisionmakers in assessing these issues.

Chapter Organization

The chapter opens with a discussion of trends in the financial resources provided for academic R&D, including allocations across both academic institutions and S&E fields. Since the Federal Government has been the primary source of support for academic R&D for over half a century, the importance of selected agencies in supporting individual fields is explored in some detail. Data are also presented on changes in the number of academic institutions receiving federal R&D support. The section next examines the status of two key elements of university research activities-facilities and instrumentation. Topics explored include their funding, adequacy, and unmet needs.

The next section discusses trends in the employment, demographic characteristics, and activities of academic doctoral scientists and engineers. The discussion of employment trends focuses on full-time faculty and other positions. Trends in the involvement of women, underrepresented minorities, and Asians are explored, as are shifts in the faculty age structure. Special attention is given to participation in research by academic doctoral scientists and engineers and the federal support reported for these activities. Selected demographic characteristics of recent doctorate-holders entering academic employment are examined.

The third section looks at the relationships between research and graduate education. It covers overall trends in graduate support and patterns of support in different types of institutions, and compares support patterns for those who complete an S&E doctorate with the full population of graduate students. The extent of participation by graduate research assistants in academic research is examined, as are the sources of support for research assistants and the spreading incidence of research assistantship (RA) support to a growing number of academic institutions. The chapter's final section deals with two research outputs: scientific and technical articles in a set of journals covered by the Science Citation Index (SCI), and patents issued to U.S. universities. (A third major output of academic R&D, educated and trained personnel, is discussed in the preceding section of this chapter and in chapter 2.) The section specifically looks at the output volume of research (article counts), collaboration in the conduct of research (joint authorships), use in subsequent scientific activity (citation patterns), and use beyond science (citations to the literature on patent applications).

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[1] For a discussion of this point, see chapter 2, "Foreign Doctoral Students in the United States."

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