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Chapter 5. Academic Research and Development


Spending for Academic R&D

In 2012, U.S. academic institutions spent $65.8 billion on research and development in all fields, including $62.3 billion on S&E R&D and an additional $3.5 billion in non-S&E fields.

  • Academic R&D expenditures rose by almost 14% from 2009–11, with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) providing almost $7 billion during these years.
  • In 2012, ARRA expenditures dropped to $2.5 billion. Total academic R&D expenditures increased by less than 1% from the 2011 level (and decreased by 1% after adjusting for inflation).
  • In 2012 and throughout the past four decades, expenditures were concentrated in a relatively small number of public and private research-intensive universities.
  • The federal government provided about 60% of total academic R&D in FY 2012 (over $40 billion), a share that has remained relatively constant since the late 1980s. Six agencies provide over 90% of federal support for academic R&D in S&E—the Department of Health and Human Services (mainly through the National Institutes of Health), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Agriculture.

Institutions’ own funds provided nearly 20% of S&E R&D in FY 2012 ($12.1 billion), while state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and businesses funded smaller shares.

  • State and local governments funded $3.4 billion of S&E R&D in FY 2012 (5.5%).
  • Nonprofit organizations funded $3.7 billion of S&E academic R&D in FY 2012 (just under 6%).
  • Businesses funded $3.2 billion of S&E academic R&D in FY 2012 (just over 5%).

Over the last 20 years, the distribution of academic R&D expenditures across the broad S&E fields shifted in favor of life sciences and away from physical sciences.

  • In 2012, life sciences continued to receive the largest share (60%) of funding in academic S&E R&D.
  • Over the last 20 years, life sciences was the only broad S&E field to experience a sizable increase in share—6 percentage points—of total academic S&E R&D.

Infrastructure for Academic R&D

Research space at academic institutions has continued to grow annually over the last two decades, although the pace of growth has slowed in the last few years.

  • Total research space at research-performing universities and colleges was 3.5% greater at the end of FY 2011 than it was in FY 2009.
  • Research space for the biological and biomedical sciences accounted for 26.8% of all S&E research space in FY 2011, making it the largest of all the major fields.

In FY 2012, about $2.0 billion was spent for academic research equipment (i.e., movable items such as computers or microscopes), an 11.6% decrease from FY 2011 after adjusting for inflation.

  • Equipment spending as a share of total R&D expenditures fell from 4.6% in FY 2001 to a three-decade low of 3.2% in FY 2012.
  • Three S&E fields accounted for 86% of equipment expenditures in FY 2012: life sciences (41%), engineering (28%), and physical sciences (17%).
  • In FY 2012, the federal share of support for all academic research equipment funding was 57%, which was below the average (58.7%) for the FY 2000–09 decade preceding the full impact of ARRA.


Academic networking infrastructure is rapidly expanding in capability and coverage.

  • Research-performing institutions have gained greater access to high-performance networks since FY 2005, when NSF began collecting these data.
  • Due to their research demands, doctorate-granting institutions have significantly higher bandwidth access and high-performance computing resources than non-doctorate-granting institutions.

Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in Academia

The doctoral academic S&E workforce numbered about 360,000 in 2010.

  • The U.S.-trained portion of the workforce numbered about 295,000, while the foreign-trained portion numbered about 64,000.
  • The growth from 2008–10 in the doctoral academic S&E workforce reflects an increase in the overall population of doctoral scientists and engineers across the various sectors of the economy.
  • The share of all U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders employed in academia dropped from 55% in 1973 to 44% in 2010.

Among U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders employed full-time in academia, faculty positions remained the predominant type of employment in 2010. However, the number of nonfaculty positions, including postdoctorates (postdocs), grew more rapidly than the number of faculty, particularly in recent years.

  • 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 less than 75% in 2010.
  • Compared to 1997, a smaller share of the doctoral academic S&E workforce had achieved tenure in 2010. In 1997, tenured positions accounted for an estimated 53% of doctoral academic employment; this decreased to 48% in 2010.

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

  • The number of women in academia grew substantially between 1997 and 2010, from about 60,000 to 105,000. Women as a share of full-time senior doctoral S&E faculty also increased.
  • In 2010, underrepresented minorities (blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives) constituted 8.3% of total U.S.-trained academic S&E doctoral employment and of full-time faculty positions, up from about 2% in 1973 and 7%–8% of these positions in 2003.
  • The foreign-born share of U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders in academia increased from about 12% in 1973 to 26% in 2010.
  • In 2010, about one-half of all U.S.-trained postdocs and almost three-fourths of total academically employed postdocs were born outside of the United States.
  • The U.S.-trained doctoral academic S&E workforce has aged substantially since 1995. In 2010, 20% of this workforce was between 60 and 75 years of age.

Since 1997, there have been modest increases in the share of full-time faculty who identify research as their primary work activity.

  • The share of full-time faculty with S&E degrees who identified research as their primary work activity rose from 33% in 1997 to 36% in 2010, while the share identifying teaching as their primary activity fell from 54% to 47%.
  • In 2010, 37% of recently degreed S&E doctoral faculty identified research as their primary work activity.

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

  • Approximately 40,000 S&E doctorate holders were employed in academic postdoc positions in 2011. Of these, about 23,000 were trained in the United States.
  • In 2010, 41% of recently degreed U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders in academia (less than 4 years beyond the doctorate) held postdoc positions, exceeding the share (35%) employed in full-time faculty positions. Among U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders 4–7 years beyond their doctorate degrees, 13% held postdoc positions.
  • Almost 500,000 graduate research assistants worked in academia in 2011.

For S&E as a whole and for many fields, the share of U.S.-trained academic S&E doctorate holders receiving federal support declined since the early 1990s.

  • In 2010, about the same percentage of S&E doctorate holders received federal support as had received support in the early 1970s (about 45%).
  • During the late 1980s and very early 1990s, a somewhat higher share of S&E doctorate holders received federal support (49%).
  • Among full-time faculty, recent doctorate recipients were less likely to receive federal support than their more established colleagues.

Outputs of Academic S&E Research: Articles and Patents

Global shares of S&E article output of the United States, the European Union (EU), and Japan have declined. China’s global share has risen sharply.

  • The United States, the world’s second-largest producer, accounted for 26% of the world’s total S&E articles in 2011, down from 30% in 2001. The share for the EU, the world’s largest producer, also declined, from 35% in 2001 to 31% in 2011. Japan’s share fell from 9% to 6%.
  • China grew the fastest among larger developing economies, with its share rising from 3% to 11%. China has become the world’s third-largest producer of scientific articles, after the EU and the United States.
  • Brazil and India also grew rapidly, with their global shares reaching 2% and 3%, respectively. Iran, a developing nation with a much smaller publication base in 2001, grew to a 1% global share by 2011.

More than two-thirds of global S&E articles had authors from different institutions or different countries in 2012, compared with just over half of such articles 15 years earlier.

  • Coauthored articles with only domestic institutional authors increased from 36% of all articles in 1997 to 44% in 2012. Internationally coauthored articles grew from 16% to 25% over the same period.
  • In the United States, 35% of its articles were coauthored with institutions in other countries in 2012, compared with 16% in 1997. The center of U.S. collaboration is the U.S. academic sector, which coauthored 53% of its articles with other U.S. sectors or foreign institutions in 2012.

Citation data suggest that the influence of U.S.-authored articles remains quite high but has dropped some over the past 10 years.

  • In 2012, articles with U.S. authors were among the top 1% most-cited articles about 74% more often than expected, based on the U.S. share of all articles, compared with 85% in 2002.
  • Between 2002 and 2012, EU-authored articles, on average, became more influential. In 2002, they were cited 21% less often than expected among the top 1% most-cited articles; in 2012, the EU improved to 6% less often. In 2012, China’s share of highly cited articles was 37% less than expected.

U.S. academic patents rose sharply from 3,300 in 2009 to 5,100 in 2012.

  • Patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to U.S. academic institutions increased by more than 50% from 2009 to 2012, mirroring strong growth of all USTPO patents.
  • Biotechnology patents made up 1% of all USPTO patents but 25% of U.S. university patents in 2012.