NSB News Release

Federal dollars fund more than half of all academic research and development

New report shows that biomedical and health sciences dominate

In 2019, funding of academic R&D from the Department of Health
and Human Services was greater than the total support for
academic R&D from all other federal agencies combined.

Federally financed R&D expenditures, by agency: FY 2019 (Credit and Larger Version)

September 14, 2021


The National Science Board (NSB) today published the Academic Research and Development report from the 2022 cycle of Science and Engineering Indicators, a congressionally mandated report.

The report shows that the federal government remains the largest funder of academic research and development, providing more than half of total funds. Six departments or agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), fund more than 90% of academic R&D.

The report shows that health and biological and biomedical research at institutions of higher education – supported primarily by the Department of Health and Human Services – continues to be a major U.S. strength. Other fields of academic research receive significantly less federal funding; in 2019, funding of academic R&D from the Department of Health and Human Services was greater than the total support for academic R&D from all other federal agencies combined.

"Our colleges and universities perform about half of all U.S. basic research and are critical to our country’s advances in science and engineering,” says NSB member and University of Utah Provost Dan Reed. “The data show why proposals from Congress and the White House to boost the capacity of more of our federal science agencies, including NSF, are so important. To ensure our national security and to stay economically competitive, our nation needs to remain at the forefront of scientific and technological innovation across all fields of research."

Other highlights:

- Six federal agencies fund more than 90% of federally funded academic R&D:  the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

- Biological and biomedical sciences and engineering are the primary drivers of increases in the physical space devoted to academic science and engineering research, accounting for 60% of the total research space growth between 2007 to 2019.

- Science and engineering postdoctoral appointments are concentrated in the biological and biomedical sciences and health sciences, with earth and physical sciences and engineering making up most of the remainder.

- U.S. academic R&D is concentrated in a small percentage of higher education institutions, with very high activity research institutions performing roughly 78% of all academic R&D. These institutions also enroll or employ more than 80% of science and engineering doctoral students and postdocs.

- Out of 44 countries, the U.S. ranks highest in overall higher education expenditures on R&D, but 23rd in higher education R&D expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product.

- Graduate students and postdocs are essential to U.S. academic R&D. Master’s students largely support themselves, whereas doctoral students are primarily supported by academic institutions (primarily via teaching assistantships) and the federal government (primarily via research assistantships).

Academic Research and Development is one of ten reports that are the major components of the Science and Engineering Indicators suite of products.  Other recently released reports from Indicators 2022 are Elementary and Secondary STEM Education and The STEM Labor Force of Today: Scientists, Engineers, and Skilled Technical Workers. The remaining reports will be published on a staggered schedule between now and spring of 2022.


About Science and Engineering Indicators
Science and Engineering Indicators is a congressionally mandated report on the state of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.


About the NSB
The NSB identifies issues critical to NSF’s future, establishes its policies, and serves as co-head of agency with the NSF Director. The Board also advises the President and Congress on policy matters related to science and engineering (S&E) and S&E education. Selected for their distinguished service and accomplishments in academia, government, and the private sector, the Board’s 24 presidentially appointed members are leaders in science and engineering, and in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) is the nation's leading provider of statistical data on the U.S. science and engineering enterprise. As a principal federal statistical agency, NCSES serves as a clearinghouse for the collection, interpretation, analysis, and dissemination of objective science and engineering data.  


Media Contact:  Nadine Lymn at (703) 292-2490 or nlymn@nsf.gov


The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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