Science Resources Studies Division
DATA BRIEF Directorate for
Social, Behavioral
and Economic

National Science Foundation
NSF 98-303, March 3, 1998

Academic R&D Expenditures Maintain Steady Growth in FY 1996

by M. Marge Machen

Federal Government share of academic R&D expenditures holds firm at 60 percent for fourth consecutive year.

Total expenditures by universities and colleges for separately budgeted research and development (R&D) activities in science and engineering (S&E) increased 3.5 percent over the FY 1995 level, reaching nearly $23 billion in FY 1996. This amount had more than doubled the $10.9 billion reported for FY 1986, and more than 6 times the $3.7 billion spent just 2 decades ago. When adjusted for inflation, academic R&D increased 1.4 percent over the FY 1995 level, slower than the 4.6-percent constant dollar average annual growth rate maintained during the previous 20 years.

Sources of R&D Funding
Academic R&D expenditures financed by the Federal Government increased 3 percent (1 percent in constant dollars) in FY 1996, to $13.8 billion. This rate of growth was considerably below the nearly 9-percent average annual growth rate in academic spending from Federal sources that had been maintained over the last two decades (4 percent when adjusted for inflation). Nonetheless, the Federal share held firm in FY 1996 at 60 percent of the R&D dollars expended at universities and colleges-the same share it held during the previous three years.

Expenditures financed by all non-Federal sources combined grew nearly 4 percent in FY 1996 (close to 2 percent after accounting for inflation), rising to $9.2 billion. Spending from industry sources increased the fastest-6 percent in FY 1996, followed by the largest non-Federal source-institutional funds-with a 4-percent gain. State and local governments' R&D funding was up nearly 3 percent, and funds from all other non-Federal sources (including private foundations and voluntary sources) rose 2 percent (table 1).

Total basic research spending at academic institutions rose to $15.4 billion, up 4 percent over FY 1995, or a 2-percent increase after adjusting for inflation. The Federal Government continued to provide 64 percent of the basic research total in FY 1996, $9.9 billion, for a 4-percent increase (2 percent in constant dollars).

Higher education expenditures for applied research and development combined totaled $7.5 billion in 1996-an increase of 3 percent over the 1995 level. The Federal Government provided 52 percent of the applied R&D total in 1996.

Fields of Research
Academic R&D expenditures in engineering rose 5 percent in 1996, compared to a 3-percent gain for the sciences as a whole. Social sciences realized the fastest rate of growth-8 percent-among the major S&E fields for which data are collected. Other increases ranged from 4 percent in the life sciences to less than 1 percent in physical sciences (table 2).

Although expenditures in all fields grew, the computer sciences, psychology, and the physical sciences grew slower than the 2-percent rate of inflation.

Federally financed spending followed a similar pattern with R&D funding, exceeding inflation in five of the eight major S&E fields (chart 1).

Increases in federally funded expenditures were below the rate of inflation for the physical sciences, mathematical sciences, and psychology. In terms of R&D expenditures in specific S&E subfields, three fell in nominal dollars: astronomy (down 9 percent), aeronautical & astronautical engineering (down 3 percent), and earth sciences (down 2 percent). Declining support from Federal sources accounted for much of the reduction in funding in these fields.

Out of 674 institutions, the leading 100 research schools account for 80 percent of all academic R&D expenditures.

Academic R&D expenditures are concentrated in relatively few institutions. The 100 leading research institutions (out of the 674 institutions represented in this survey) accounted for 81 percent of Federally financed spending and 80 percent of all academic R&D expenditures. The leading 20 research institutions alone accounted for 34 percent of federally sponsored support and a 31-percent share of total academic R&D expenditures in FY 1996 (table 3).

This Data Brief was prepared by:

M. Marge Machen
National Science Foundation
Division of Science Resources Studies
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965
Arlington, VA 22230.

For free copies of SRS Data Briefs, write to the above address, call 301-947-2722, or send e-mail to



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