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Chapter 5. Academic Research and Development


Financial Resources for Academic R&D

In 2008, U.S. academic institutions spent $52 billion on R&D, and the higher education sector continues to account for the majority of basic research performed in the United States.

  • Academic performers are estimated to account for 55% of U.S. basic research ($69 billion), 31% of total (basic plus applied) research ($157 billion), and 13% of all R&D ($395 billion) estimated to have been conducted in the United States in 2008.
  • Higher education's share of total U.S. research expenditures increased by 11 percentage points between 1982 and 2002 (from 24% to 35%), but has since declined to an estimated 31% in 2008.

Support from the federal government decreased in recent years with no funding growth for 3 straight years.

  • The federal government provided 60% ($31.2 billion) of funding for academic R&D expenditures in 2008. In inflation-adjusted dollars, this represents a 0.2% increase from FY 2007 and follows decreases of 1.6% in FY 2007 and 0.2% in FY 2006.
  • According to the federal agencies providing the funding, total federal obligations for academic R&D peaked in 2004 at $22.1 billion (in constant 2000 dollars) and have since declined by almost 7% to an estimated $20.7 billion in FY 2009.

Higher education R&D funding from all nonfederal sources combined has grown steadily since FY 2004.

  • The share of support provided by institutional funds increased steadily between 1972 (12%) and 1991 (19%) but since then has remained fairly stable at roughly one-fifth of total funding.
  • After a 3-year decline between 2001 and 2004 (low of $2.1 billion), industry funding of academic R&D increased for the fourth year in a row, to $2.9 billion in 2008.

The distribution of academic R&D expenditures across the various broad S&E fields has remained relatively constant since 1990, with the life sciences receiving the most funding.

  • In 2008, the life sciences continued to receive the largest share of investment in academic R&D, accounting for roughly 60% of all expenditures.
  • Over the past two decades, the broad field of life sciences was the only field to experience any meaningful increase in its share of total academic R&D, rising more than 4 percentage points since 1998.

In 2008, about $1.9 billion was spent for academic research equipment. This represents a real increase of 1.0% from FY 2007, but a decline of more than 10% from the 2004 level.

  • About 80% of FY 2008 equipment expenditures were concentrated in three fields: the life sciences (43%), engineering (23%), and the physical sciences (16%).
  • After a period of steady growth between 2001 and 2004, equipment expenditures in the physical sciences, medical and biological sciences, and engineering have all declined since 2005.

Academic R&D Infrastructure

Research-performing colleges and universities continued to expand their physical resources for conducting research. However, while cyberinfrastructure capabilities continued to expand significantly, the expansion of traditional "bricks and mortar" infrastructure slowed.

  • A large majority of institutions now have connections to high-speed networks; 25% of institutions have more than one connection.
  • By FY 2007, 74% of all institutions had internal network distribution speeds of at least 1 gigabit.
  • For the first time in 20 years, almost half of all S&E fields experienced a decline in their research space.

Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in Academia

The size of the doctoral academic S&E workforce reached an estimated 272,800 in 2006 but grew more slowly than the number of S&E doctorate holders in other employment sectors from 1973 to 2006. Full-time faculty positions, although still the predominant type of employment, increased more slowly than postdoc and other full- and part-time positions, especially at research universities.

  • The share of all S&E doctorate holders employed in academia dropped from 55% in 1973 to 45% in 1991 and has remained at about that level through 2006.
  • Among S&E doctorate holders in academia, full-time faculty declined continually from 88% in the early 1970s to 72% in 2006.
  • Postdocs and others in full-time nonfaculty positions constitute an increasing percentage of academic S&E employment, having grown from 10% in 1973 to 22% in 2006. This change was especially pronounced in the 1990s.
  • The share of part-time positions was roughly 2% to 4% from 1973 through 1999, but has risen since then to 6% in 2006.

The number of academic S&E doctorate holders reporting research as their primary or secondary work activity showed greater growth from 1973 to 2006 than the number reporting teaching as their primary or secondary activity.

  • The number of researchers grew 2.5% per year (from 82,300 to 183,700) between 1973 and 2006, and the number of teachers grew 1.7% per year (from 94,900 to 163,300).
  • About two-thirds of doctoral scientists and engineers employed in academic institutions are engaged in research as either a primary or secondary work activity.

Life scientists accounted for more than one-third of academic doctorate holders reporting research as a primary or secondary work activity in 2006. Life scientists also accounted for most of the growth in academic researchers.

  • The number of academic researchers in the physical sciences and mathematics grew more slowly, at average annual growth rates of 1.1% and 1.6%, respectively, from 1973 to 2006. Growth rates for academic researchers in all fields were greatest in the 1980s.
  • The number of full-time faculty in the life sciences has risen, but the percentage of full-time faculty in the life sciences who are tenured or on the tenure track has declined because the number of tenured and tenure-track life scientists has remained fairly stable since the late 1980s.

The demographic composition of academic researchers changed substantially between 1973 and 2006.

  • Women increased from 6% to 29% of full-time doctoral S&E research faculty from 1973 to 2006.
  • Underrepresented minorities (blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives) increased from about 2% to about 8% of full-time doctoral S&E research faculty.
  • The Asian/Pacific Islander share of full-time doctoral S&E research faculty increased substantially, from 4% to 13%.
  • The share of whites among full-time doctoral S&E research faculty fell from 92% to 79% during the period.

In most fields, the percentage of full-time doctoral S&E faculty with federal support for their work was about the same in 2006 as it was in the late 1980s.

  • A little less than half (46%) of full-time doctoral S&E faculty received federal support in both 1987 and in 2006.
  • 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

S&E article output worldwide grew at an average annual rate of 2.5% between 1995 and 2007. The U.S. growth rate was much lower, at 0.7%.

  • The United States accounted for 28% of the world total S&E articles in 2007, down from 34% in 1995. The share of the European Union also declined, from 35% in 1995 to 32% in 2007.
  • In Asia, average annual growth rates were high—for example, 17% in China and 14% in South Korea. As a result, in 2007 China moved past the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan to rank as the world's 2nd-largest producer, up from 5th place in 2005 and 14th place in 1995.

The research portfolios of the top article-producing countries, as indicated by publication of S&E articles, varied widely. China, Japan, and eight other Asian countries (the "Asia-8") emphasized the physical sciences more than the United States and the European Union.

  • In 2007, S&E research articles in chemistry and physics accounted for just under one-half of China's total article production, 36% of Japan's, and 37% of the Asia-8's. These two fields accounted for 17% of the total for the United States and 25% of the total for the European Union.
  • Articles in the life sciences (biological, medical, agricultural, and related sciences) accounted for 57% of all U.S. S&E articles, compared with 49% for the European Union, 25% for China, 45% for Japan, and 34% for the Asia-8.
  • Country research portfolios also differed in their emphasis on engineering, with the Asian countries more heavily concentrated in this broad field (China at 16%, Japan at 11%, and the Asia-8 at 19%) than the U.S. or the European Union (7%–8%).

S&E research articles continue to indicate increasing collaboration across institutions in the United States and internationally.

  • Coauthored articles grew from 40% of the world's total S&E articles in 1988 to 64% in 2008. Coauthored articles listing only authors from different institutions in the same country increased from 32% of all articles in 1988 to 42% in 2008. Articles listing authors from institutions in more than one country grew from 8% to 22% over the same period.
  • Within-sector coauthorship increased in all U.S. sectors, growing, for example, from 38% of academic S&E article output in 1998 to 45% in 2008. Cross-sector coauthorship increased generally, mainly due to an increase of 7–10 percentage points in each nonacademic sector's coauthorship with academia. U.S. sector coauthorship with foreign authors grew in all sectors by 7–10 percentage points.

The U.S. share of world article output and article citations has declined but not the influence of U.S. research articles, as indicated by the percentage of U.S. articles that are among the most highly cited worldwide.

  • Between 1998 and 2008, the U.S. share of world articles declined from 34% in 1998 to 29% in 2008, while its share of total citations in S&E articles declined from 47% to 38%. Over the same period, China's share of publications increased from 2% to 6%, and its share of citations from 1% to 4%.
  • The percentage of U.S.-authored S&E articles receiving the highest number of citations—an indicator of research quality and high impact on subsequent research—has changed little. Between 1998 and 2008, the U.S. index of highly cited articles declined from 1.83 to 1.78 and remained well above the expected index value of 1. Indexes of the European Union, China, Japan, and the Asia-8 all increased but remained below 1.

Indicators of academic patenting are mixed. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) data show that patent grants to U.S. universities declined to about 3,000 in 2008. Other indicators relating to academic patenting suggest increasing activity.

  • According to USPTO data, patent grants to universities and colleges increased sharply from 1988 to about 1999, when they peaked at just under 3,700 patents, and then fell to about 3,000 in 2008. Three technology areas have dominated these patent awards (chemistry, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals), accounting for 45% of the total patents awarded to U.S. universities in 2008.
  • Data from another source show that invention disclosures filed with university technology management offices grew from 13,700 in 2003 to 17,700 in 2007 and that patent applications filed by reporting universities and colleges increased from 7,200 in 2003 to almost 11,000 in 2007.

Science and Engineering Indicators 2010   Arlington, VA (NSB 10-01) | January 2010