Spending for Academic R&D

In 2016, U.S. academic institutions spent $72 billion on research and development.

  • Basic research constituted just under two-thirds of academic R&D spending; the remainder was split between applied research (28%) and development (9%).
  • Although the federal government provided more than half of academic R&D funds in 2016 (54%), its share declined for the fifth year in a row.
  • By contrast, universities’ share of academic R&D spending has grown in recent years and reached its highest level ever in 2016 (25%).

Six agencies provided more than 90% of federal support for academic R&D.

  • In declining order of funding and based on reports from universities, the major federal agencies that support academic R&D are the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Agriculture.
  • HHS (mainly through the National Institutes of Health) provides the majority of total federal funds for life sciences and psychology.
  • NSF and DOD together provide the majority of federal funding for computer sciences, mathematical sciences, and engineering.
  • HHS, NSF, and DOD together provide the majority of federal funding for social sciences.
  • NSF and NASA together provide half of the federal funding for geosciences, while NSF and DOE together provide half of the federal funding for physical sciences.

Over most of the last three decades, the distribution of academic R&D expenditures shifted in favor of life sciences and away from physical sciences. However, over the last decade, engineering R&D has grown faster than R&D in life sciences.

  • Life sciences received the largest share (57%) of funding in 2016, followed by engineering (16%).
  • Within life sciences, biological and biomedical sciences and health sciences have grown more rapidly than agricultural sciences.
  • Within engineering, bioengineering and biomedical engineering and aerospace engineering have grown faster than the other engineering fields, although from lower bases.
  • The other broad fields of science—computer sciences, geosciences, mathematical sciences, physical sciences, psychology, and social sciences—together accounted for 20% of academic R&D spending in 2016.
  • Just under 2% of academic R&D expenditures were not classified within a broad field of science and included a portion of the multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary R&D conducted by U.S. academic institutions.
  • Non-S&E fields—such as education, business, and humanities—accounted for just under 6% of total spending.

Funding sources for academic R&D continued to differ in importance for public and private institutions in 2016.

  • Public universities relied more heavily than private ones on state and local government funds (8% versus 1%) and more heavily on their own funds (27% versus 21%).
  • Private universities relied more heavily on the federal government (60% versus 51%).
  • Private universities relied a bit more than their public counterparts on business funding (7% versus 5%) and nonprofit funding (8% versus 6%).

Infrastructure for Academic R&D

Research space at academic institutions has continued to grow annually since the 1980s, although the pace of growth has slowed over the last decade.

  • Total research space at universities and colleges increased by 1.4% from 2013 to 2015, which was the smallest growth in three decades.
  • Research space for the biological and biomedical sciences accounted for 26% of all S&E research space in 2015, making it the largest of all the major fields.
  • In 2015, 80% of research space was reported as being in either superior or satisfactory condition by academic institutions, 16% required renovations, and 4% needed replacement.

In 2016, universities spent just over $2.1 billion on movable capitalized research equipment, an increase of 3% from the amount spent in 2015.

  • Equipment spending accounted for 3.1% of total academic S&E R&D expenditures in 2016, which was the lowest share in three decades.
  • Three S&E fields accounted for 87% of equipment expenditures in 2016: life sciences (40%), engineering (29%), and physical sciences (18%).
  • In 2014, the federal share of support for all academic research equipment funding fell below 50% for the first time since data collection began in 1981. The 2016 federal support share remained below 50% for the third consecutive year, reaching 45%. This share reached 63% as recently as 2011.

Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in Academia

The academic workforce with research doctorates in science, engineering, and health (hereafter referred to as S&E) numbered just under 400,000 in 2015.

  • The vast majority of this population (about 330,000) was trained in the United States. The foreign-trained portion numbered about 68,000.
  • Between 2013 and 2015, the S&E doctoral workforce grew more slowly in the academic sector (7%) than in the business sector (15%).
  • In 2015, about 45% of the U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders were employed in academia, compared with just under 50% in the mid-1990s and 55% in the early 1970s.

Full-time faculty positions for U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders have been in steady decline for four decades, offset by a rise in other types of full- and part-time positions.

  • The percentage of S&E doctorate holders employed in academia who held full-time faculty positions declined from about 90% in the early 1970s to about 70% in 2015.
  • Compared with 1995, a smaller share of the doctoral academic workforce had achieved tenure in 2015. In 1995, tenured positions accounted for an estimated 53% of doctoral academic employment; this decreased to 47% in 2015. Tenure-track positions as a share of doctoral academic employment declined slightly between 1995 and 2015, while the share of positions outside of the tenure system increased.

The demographic profile of the U.S.-trained academic doctoral workforce has shifted substantially over time.

  • The number of women in academia grew rapidly between 1995 and 2015, more than doubling from 52,000 to 123,000. In 2015, women constituted 37% of academically employed doctorate holders, up from 24% in 1995. Women as a share of full-time senior doctoral faculty also increased substantially.
  • Among younger individuals (those degreed since 1995), women constituted 44% of the academic doctoral workforce, while among the older cohort (those degreed in 1994 or earlier), women constituted only 26%.
  • In 2015, underrepresented minorities (blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives) constituted 8.9% of total academic doctoral employment and 8.6% of full-time faculty positions, up from about 2% in 1973 and from 7%–8% of these positions in 2003.
  • Among women in full-time faculty positions, 10.5% were from underrepresented minority groups, a higher percentage than for their male counterparts (7.6%).
  • Among those degreed since 1995, underrepresented minorities held 10.2% of full-time faculty positions, while among the cohort degreed before 1995, they held only 6.5% of full-time faculty positions.
  • Just under 30% of U.S.-trained doctorate holders in academia were foreign born, contrasted with about 12% in 1973 and 19% in 1995.
  • Over one-half of all U.S.-trained postdoctorates (postdocs) were born outside of the United States.
  • The U.S.-trained doctoral academic workforce has aged substantially over the past two decades. In 2015, 25% of those in full-time faculty positions were between 60 and 75 years of age, compared with 11% in 1995.

Since 1993, the proportion of full-time faculty who identify research as their primary work activity has increased, and the proportion of full-time faculty who identify teaching as their primary activity has decreased.

  • Just under 40% of full-time faculty identified research as their primary work activity in 2015, up from 33% in 1993.
  • The share of full-time faculty who identified teaching as their primary activity declined from 53% in 1993 to 45% in 2015.
  • In 2015, 35% of recently degreed full-time faculty identified research as their primary work activity.

A substantial pool of academic researchers exists outside the ranks of tenure-track faculty.

  • Approximately 45,000 S&E doctorate holders were employed in academic postdoc positions in 2015, most of whom earned their doctorate overseas.
  • In 2015, 35% of U.S.-trained doctorate holders less than 4 years beyond receiving the doctorate held academic postdoc positions, about the same share (36%) as employed in full-time faculty positions. Among those 4–7 years beyond receiving their doctorates, 16% held postdoc positions.
  • Beyond postdocs and full-time faculty, other S&E doctorate holders engaged in academic R&D include research associates and adjunct faculty.

The share of U.S.-trained academic doctorate holders receiving federal research support declined somewhat since the early 1990s.

  • In 2015, about 41% of doctorate holders received federal research support, compared with 48% during the late 1980s and very early 1990s.
  • Among full-time faculty, recent doctorate recipients were less likely to receive federal research support than their more established colleagues.
  • Federal research support has become less available to doctorate holders in nonfaculty positions, declining from about 60% in 1973 to about 42% in 2015.

Outputs of S&E Research: Publications

U.S. researchers accounted for just under one-fifth of the global output volume of peer-reviewed S&E articles; academic researchers contributed about three-quarters of the U.S. total. In 2016, China and the United States were the two largest global producers of peer-reviewed S&E articles.

  • China and the United States produced 18.6% and 17.8%, respectively, of the world’s 2.3 million total S&E publications in 2016. Over the last decade for which data are available, between 2006 and 2016, the U.S. share declined from 24.4%, while China’s share grew from 12.1%.
  • The period from 2006 to 2016 shows the ascendance of the share of peer-reviewed publications from Asia and India. China’s compound annual growth rate of 8.43% was one of the fastest growing among the top 15 producers of S&E publications. Also among the top 15 producers, Iranian output grew the fastest, growing 15.1% annually from 2006 to 2016. Indian researcher output grew at an annual rate of 11.1%.
  • Japan, the country with the sixth largest share of S&E publications in 2016, experienced a decline in global share from 7.0% to 4.2% from 2006 to 2016. Shares of Germany and the United Kingdom, the fourth and fifth largest producers, declined from 5.4% to 4.5% and from 5.6% to 4.3%, respectively.
  • India is the third largest producer of S&E articles, with a 4.8% share of world S&E publication output in 2016. South Korea reached 2.8%, while Brazil reached 2.3%.
  • When viewed as one region, the share for the European Union (EU) declined, from 30.7% in 2006 to 26.7% in 2016.

Biological and medical sciences dominate research output in the United States, Japan, and the EU. Engineering publications account for the greatest percentage of the publications from China.

  • Among the major producers of S&E publications, the United States has the highest concentration of publications in medical sciences.
  • The United States has 47.2% and the EU has 39.4% of their publications in two fields combined, biological and medical sciences. Japan has 43.1% of its publications in those fields.
  • China has 28.9% of its publications in engineering and 27.3% in biological and medical sciences combined.
  • Of these major producers, India has the highest concentration of publications in computer sciences and the second highest concentration in engineering.

S&E research publications are increasingly collaborative and increasingly international in authorship.

  • More than 64.7% of global S&E publications had multiple authors in 2016, compared with about 60.1% of such publications in 2006.
  • The percentage of worldwide publications produced with international collaboration (i.e., by authors with institutional addresses from at least two countries) rose from 16.7% to 21.7% between 2006 and 2016.
  • International collaboration grew between 2006 and 2016 in all fields of science, with the highest percentage of international collaboration in astronomy.
  • In the United States, 37.0% of publications were coauthored with researchers at institutions in other countries in 2016, compared with 25.2% in 2006.
  • Among the major producers of S&E publications, the United Kingdom had the highest international collaboration rate in 2016, at 57.1%.

The impact of S&E publications has also become more global. U.S. S&E publications increasingly cite S&E publications from foreign authors and increasingly receive citations from foreign-authored publications.

  • World citations to U.S. research publications increased from 47.0% to 55.7% between 2004 and 2014.
  • The average impact of U.S. publications—a measure of citations received relative to the number of S&E articles published and the fields in which they appear—was 42% higher in 2014 than the global average for citations.
  • China’s citation rate rapidly increased across 2004–14, improving from fewer citations than would be expected, based on number of publications from China's researcher institutions, to just reaching the expected level of citations.
  • In 2014, publications with U.S. authors were almost twice as likely to be among the world’s top 1% most-cited publications than would be expected based on the volume of U.S. publications.
  • By this measure, S&E publications from the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland are more than twice as likely to be among the top 1% of highly cited articles.