1 Higher education institutions are primary performers of U.S. basic research, accounting for 49% of the $83.5 billion of basic research performance in 2015. The business sector performed about 26%, the federal government (agency intramural laboratories and federally funded research and development centers [FFRDCs]) performed 12%, and other nonprofit organizations performed 13%. See Chapter 4 for further discussion of national patterns of R&D.

2 While the data sources generally group fields consistently, there are a few differences. In particular, SDR groups earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences under physical sciences, whereas the other data sources used in this chapter group these sciences under geosciences. In the bibliometric data, chemistry and physics are separate broad fields; in the chapter’s other data sources, however, these fields are included within the broad field of physical sciences.

Expenditures and Funding for Academic R&D

1 The academic R&D totals presented here exclude expenditures at the federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) associated with universities. Those expenditures are tallied separately and discussed in Chapter 4. Nevertheless, the FFRDCs and other national laboratories (including federal intramural laboratories) play an important role in academic research and education, providing research opportunities for students and faculty at academic institutions, often by providing highly specialized, shared research facilities.

2 This total represents the reported total R&D performance of the 640 institutions that reported at least $1 million in R&D expenditures during their previous fiscal year. It varies slightly from a similar total reported in Chapter 4, which removes the approximately $3 billion in pass-through funds that are double-counted in the HERD totals because such funds are counted by the universities initially receiving the money and by the universities to which the funds are passed. Also, the Chapter 4 total presents calendar-year approximations based on fiscal-year data. The 640 institutions accounted for 99.8% of the total R&D expenditures reported for FY 2016.

3 In this chapter, the terms universities and colleges, schools, higher education, and academic institutions are used interchangeably.

4 For a more complete discussion of these concepts, see the Chapter 4 Glossary. Chapter 4 provides further detail on federal obligations for academic R&D, by character of work.

5 Starting in 2010, the HERD Survey asked institutions to categorize their R&D expenditures as basic research, as applied research, or as development; prior surveys had asked how much total S&E R&D the institution performed and requested an estimate of the percentage of the institution’s R&D expenditures devoted to basic research. By only mentioning basic research, the survey question may have caused some respondents to classify a greater proportion of their activities in this category. The 2010 question provided definitions and examples of the three R&D categories to aid institutions in making more accurate assignments. In debriefing interviews, institutional representatives cited the changes in the survey question as the most important factor affecting their somewhat lower estimates of the amount of basic research that institutions performed. The explicit inclusion of clinical trials and research training grants and the addition of non-S&E R&D may also have contributed.

6 The academic R&D reported here includes separately accounted-for R&D and related recovered indirect costs. It also includes committed cost sharing and institutional estimates of unrecovered indirect costs associated with externally funded R&D projects. Indirect costs are general expenses that cannot be associated with specific research projects but pay for things that many research projects use collectively at an academic institution. Two major components of indirect costs exist: (1) facilities-related costs, such as the depreciation, maintenance, and operation of facilities used for research; and (2) administrative costs, including expenses associated with financial management, institutional review boards, and environment, health, and safety management. Some indirect costs are recovered as a result of indirect-cost proposals that universities submit based on their actual costs from the previous year.

7 The federal government funds a much smaller proportion of R&D in non-S&E fields (27% in 2016) than it does in S&E fields (56% in 2016).

8 See National Research Council (2012) for a report exploring ways to strengthen the partnership between government, universities, and industry in support of national goals.

9 For more information on federally funded higher education R&D expenditures funded by ARRA, see Table 2016 5-3 [NSB 2016]).

10 Statistics on R&D performance can differ depending on whether the reporting is by R&D performers—in this case, academic institutions—or R&D funders. Reasons for this difference are discussed in the Chapter 4 sidebar Tracking R&D Expenditures: Disparities in the Data Reported by Performers and Sources of Funding.

11 Unrecovered indirect costs are calculated as the difference between an institution’s negotiated indirect cost rate on a sponsored project and the amount that it recovers from the sponsor. Committed cost sharing is the sum of the institutional contributions required by the sponsor for specific projects (mandatory cost sharing) and the institutional resources made available to a specific project at the discretion of the grantee institution (voluntary cost sharing).

12 Various challenges exist with measuring institutionally financed research. For some universities, including some with very high research activity, their accounting systems or administrative practices do not enable them to separate the R&D component of multipurpose accounts. Because HERD measures only spending that is fully budgeted as R&D, for these institutions, reported institutional funds are less than the full amount of academic R&D that their schools fund.

13 Life sciences also feature prominently in research space and equipment, field of degree for S&E doctorate holders, and research publications.

14 For more information on interdisciplinary research, see the Chapter 5 sidebar “Interdisciplinary Research: Strategic Implications and Measurement Challenges” (NSB 2016:5-31–5-32).

15 See also the Chapter 2 section Trends in Higher Education Expenditures and Revenues for a discussion of average per-student financial flows at public and private institutions.

16 In 1991, the Office of Management and Budget capped reimbursement of administrative costs at 26% of total direct costs. As a result, actual unrecovered indirect costs at public and private universities may be somewhat higher than the amounts reported in HERD. The share of unrecovered indirect costs within the institutional funds total has declined in recent years due to the growth in the amount of direct institutional funding for research; the total amount of unrecovered indirect costs has remained relatively stable for both public and private institutions over the past 5 years.

17 An additional 262 institutions reported spending less than $1 million on academic R&D in FY 2015. These institutions received a shorter version of the survey questionnaire and are not represented in this chapter.

Infrastructure for Academic R&D

1 Research space here is defined as the space used for sponsored R&D activities at academic institutions and for which there is separate budgeting and accounting. Research space is measured in net assignable square feet (NASF); this is the sum of all areas on all floors of a building assigned to, or available to be assigned to, an occupant for a specific use, such as research or instruction. NASF is measured from the inside faces of walls. Multipurpose space that is partially used for research is prorated to reflect the proportion of time and use devoted to research. Totals exclude research space at FFRDCs associated with universities.

2 Changes were made to some S&E fields between FYs 2005 and 2007, which include several field name changes, the order in which fields are listed in survey questions, and the disciplines included in several fields. Consequently, there is a break in data continuity at the field level from FYs 2005 to 2007.

3 For the FY 2015 Survey of Science and Engineering Research Facilities, 570 academic institutions were asked to identify the percentage of research NASF (including research animal space) that fell into each of the four following condition categories in the next 2 years (FYs 2016–17): superior condition—suitable for the most scientifically competitive research in this field over the next 2 years; satisfactory condition—suitable for continued use over the next 2 years for most levels of research in this field but may require minor repairs or renovation; requires renovation—will no longer be suitable for current research without undergoing major renovation within the next 2 years; requires replacement—should stop using space for current research within the next 2 years.

4 Tables containing ratings of research space condition for past facilities surveys can be found at

5 On the FY 2014 HERD, 570 academic institutions reported at least $1 million in R&D expenditures. These institutions were used to create the frame for the FY 2015 Survey of Science and Engineering Research Facilities. As noted earlier in the chapter, 640 institutions reported at least $1 million in R&D expenditures on the FY 2015 HERD.

6 Institutional sources include universities’ operating funds, endowments, private donations, tax-exempt bonds and other debt financing, and indirect costs recovered from federal and nonfederal sources.

7 Adjusted for inflation, the previous highest total of federal funding for new construction of S&E research space reported in this survey was $829 million (in inflation-adjusted 2015 dollars) during FYs 1990–91. For information on federal funding of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, see Howell (2014) and

8 Only projects whose prorated cost was estimated to be $250,000 or more for at least one S&E field were included.

9 Data from 1986 to 2015 for new construction and repair and renovation funding are available in (NSF/NCSES 2017). The tables at the NSF/NCSES website display more years because they have a limited breakdown of type of institutional control (public versus private).

10 Because of rising capitalization thresholds, the dollar threshold for inclusion in the equipment category has changed over time. Generally, university equipment that costs less than $5,000 would be classified under the supplies cost category.

11 Exascale refers to computing systems capable of producing at least a billion billion calculations per second or floating operations per second.

Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in Academia

1 For purposes of this discussion, health sciences are combined with biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences to create the broad field of life sciences.

2 In the discussion covering the age composition of the academic doctoral workforce, comparisons are made between 1995 and 2015 because the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 applied to the professoriate starting in 1994. In the section on federal support of doctoral researchers, comparisons are made between 1973, the very early 1990s, and 2015 because of the availability of relatively comparable data for these years.

3 Among the U.S.- and foreign-trained postdocs overall, there was much greater growth in postdocs from 2000 to 2010 (3.9% average annual growth) than from 2010 to 2015 (0.4% average annual growth).

4 These other positions included positions at universities and colleges where no tenure system exists and where there are various non-tenure-track positions.

5 Gaining tenured status has posed particular challenges for doctorate holders employed at medical schools and centers. In 1995, 26% of S&E doctorate holders employed at medical schools and centers (9,600) reported that no tenure system existed for their position; this percentage had increased to 34% by 2015 (17,600). Furthermore, Stephan (2012) notes in How Economics Shapes Science that at many medical schools, tenured faculty do not have a commitment for their salary if they do not get grant support; see also Association of American Medical Colleges (2010).

6 Analysis of trends in minority and underrepresented minority representation in the U.S.-trained academic doctoral workforce is complicated by changes to the Survey of Doctorate Recipients question about race and ethnicity. Specifically, since the early 2000s, respondents have been allowed to report more than one race. Because of this change, data from 2003 to 2015 are not directly comparable with earlier years’ data (Milan 2012).

7 Underrepresented minorities constituted 31% of the U.S. population in 2014, up from 27% in 2004.

8 Estimates of the percentage of underrepresented minorities by sex in the U.S.-trained academic doctoral workforce are based on small samples and are particularly sensitive to sampling error.

9 Asians or Pacific Islanders include Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders. They constituted a small share of the U.S. population in 2004 (4.2%) and 2014 (5.4%).

10 In 2015, foreign-born individuals constituted 13% of the U.S. population. They were a higher share (29%) of college-educated workers employed in S&E occupations throughout the economy.

11 In 2015, the majority of postdocs employed in U.S. higher education institutions received their doctorate overseas.

12 Some academically employed S&E doctorate holders were older than 75 years of age in 1995 and in 2015, but the Survey of Doctorate Recipients does not report on this because it drops respondents from the survey sample after they have reached 75 years of age. Among the overall U.S. population, individuals age 60–75 constituted just under 25% of the population ages 25–75, very similar to their proportion of full-time faculty in higher education.

13 The Survey of Doctorate Recipients presents respondents with a list of work activities and asks them to identify the activities that occupied the most and second-most hours during their typical workweek. This measure was constructed slightly differently before 1993, and the data are not strictly comparable across the two periods. Before 1993, the survey question asked respondents to select their primary and secondary work activity from a list of activities. Beginning in 1993, respondents were given the same list and asked on which activity they spent the most hours and on which they spent the second-most hours.

14 Research and teaching are coincident activities in graduate S&E education, and variations in reporting primary (as opposed to secondary) work activities may reflect what is most salient to respondents at different career stages. For example, for early career doctorate holders focused on earning tenure, the activities of running a laboratory and supervising students and postdocs may be more likely to be thought of primarily as research. Later in one’s career, as one’s focus shifts to facilitating the success of younger colleagues, the same activities may be thought of primarily as teaching.

15 University-reported data from HERD indicate that approximately 158,000 people paid from R&D salaries and wages were designated as principal investigators in academic FY 2015 and that an additional 745,000 people, including students paid from R&D accounts, were in positions other than principal investigators. Universities reported salaries, wages, and fringe benefits totaling $29.9 billion in FY 2015 for these research personnel.

16 Caution should be taken in interpreting results because of the small population size for some fields and years since receiving the doctorate as well as the subjectivity involved in estimating primary work activity.

17 Estimates of postdocs vary according to data source. HERD data report an estimated 66,000 postdocs in 2015 across all S&E and non-S&E fields. Pilot Early Career Doctorates Survey data indicate that about 50,000 S&E postdocs were employed at U.S. academic institutions.

18 The Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering does not include estimates of postdocs employed outside of the academic sector, and comprehensive data are not available on postdocs employed by businesses. See NSF’s Survey of Postdocs at Federally Funded Research and Development Centers for data on postdocs at FFRDCs ( and the Profile of Early Career Doctorates: 2015 ( for data on individuals within 10 years of having received their doctorate.

19 Data on federal support of academic researchers for 1985 and 1993–97 cannot be compared with results for the earlier years or with those from 1999 to 2015 because of changes in the survey question. In 1985, the question focused on 1 month and, from 1993 to 1997, on 1 week. In most other survey years, the reference was to the entire preceding year. Because the volume of academic research activity is not uniform over the entire academic year, a 1-week (or 1-month) reference period seriously understates the number of researchers supported at some time during an entire year.

20 A larger share of the nation’s foreign-trained academic doctoral personnel working full time (52%) received federal support in 2015.

Outputs of S&E Research: Publications

1 For more information on the International Monetary Fund economic classification of countries, see

2 Country assignments refer to the institutional address of authors, with partial credit given for international coauthorship. See sidebar Bibliometric Data and Terminology for more information on how S&E article production and collaboration are measured.

3 Calculated from Appendix Table 5-27 and the International Monetary Fund definition of developing countries.

4 The English-language bias in Scopus understates the “true” number of publications from China.

5 In 2015, 7.4% of the U.S. publications could not be assigned to a sector based on the information in the Scopus database.

6 See the Master Government List of Federally Funded R&D Centers at

7 Note that coauthorship counts use whole counting, which means that a publication with a foreign coauthor and a domestic author from a different sector will be counted as a coauthored paper with another U.S. sector and counted as coauthored with a foreign institution.