Chapter Overview

Financial resources for the large and decentralized U.S. R&D system exceeded $450 billion in recent years. R&D performed by academic institutions, relatively small at about 15% of total expenditures, has a vital role that belies its size in the overall system. Universities conduct just under half of the nation’s basic research and, in the process, introduce undergraduates to research protocols, train graduate students and future doctorate holders, and support postdoctoral researchers in conducting advanced scientific inquiry. Knowledge generated from this work is broadly shared in international peer-reviewed journals, in which U.S.-based authors feature prominently.

Chapter Organization

The chapter opens with an examination of trends in spending on academic R&D. It discusses funding sources and spending patterns by institution types and fields. Comparisons are made between public and private institutions and between very high research activity institutions and others. This section illustrates the important role of federal funding for academic R&D, showing a continuing decline in the federal share of total spending, while the share paid for by universities themselves has increased.

The second section analyzes trends in infrastructure by field for academic R&D, including research facilities and research equipment. In addition, this section comments on the role of academic research cyberinfrastructure, such as high-performance computing, networking, and storage resources.

The chapter then turns to the people conducting academic research and teaching the next generation of scientists and engineers. It traces substantial, decades-long trends in the demographics of the academic doctoral workforce, structural changes in its composition, and patterns in the distribution of federal funds that support this workforce’s research. The chapter’s focus broadens with an examination of research articles (the bulk involving results of academic R&D) in global peer-reviewed journals. This examination of the U.S. role in the broad realm of international R&D focuses on the volume, patterns, and fields of publication; the growth of coauthorship; and domestic and international collaboration. Citation patterns allow inferences about the relative impact of academic R&D output.

The fields of science and engineering presented in this chapter reflect several small differences between each section’s data sources. For example, the section Expenditures and Funding for Academic R&D presents data by S&E field as defined in the survey of Higher Education Research and Development (HERD), while the section Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in Academia presents data by S&E field as defined in the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR). The data sources generally group fields consistently, with a few exceptions.