Issue Date: October 26, 2009
Academic R&D Spending Trends
There’s good news and bad news for scientists and engineers in academe. First, the good news: Spending on science and engineering research and development by universities and colleges grew to $49.4 billion in fiscal 2007, the most recent year for which data are available from the National Science Foundation. On the downside, growth in such spending slowed for the fifth year in a row. However, stimulus spending designed to help the U.S. economy recover from the 2008–09 recession and the Obama Administration’s support for science could help reverse this trend in future years.
Between 1997 and 2007, academic R&D spending growth peaked at 10.9% in 2002. Increases remained generous over the next few years but slipped to 4.3% as of 2006. By 2007, the increase was just 3.5%, less than half the annual average for the prior decade.
When the effect of inflation is removed from the statistics, total academic R&D spending edged up 0.8% in terms of constant dollars between 2006 and 2007. Between 1997 and 2007, total spending rose 61.9% in terms of constant dollars, compared with 102.8% in current dollars.
Basic research, which typically attracts three-quarters of the total R&D budget, accounted for some $37.6 billion in spending in 2007. That outlay represented a 4.3% increase in terms of current dollars over the prior year—just half the average annual growth seen in the prior decade. Still, investment growth in the sector considerably outshined that in applied R&D, which rose a mere 1.2% to $11.8 billion in 2007. During the previous decade, applied R&D funding grew at an average annual rate of 4.3%.
The source of R&D monies remains fairly steady from year to year. In 2007, the federal government provided 61.6% of the total budget. But its $30.4 billion contribution was just 1.1% higher than the prior year’s. Institutions provided 19.5% of 2007’s total R&D budget, state and local governments put in 6.4%, and industry chipped in 5.4%.
The relative share of the total budget spent on each sector of science and engineering is also pretty consistent over time. Science accounted for 84.8% of total academic R&D spending in 2007. Its $41.9 billion expenditure represented an increase of 3.1% over the previous year. The largest sector in this category, life sciences, absorbed 60.2% of the total budget. Its outlay rose 3.3% from 2006 to reach $29.8 billion.
By comparison, the physical sciences, including chemistry, physics, and astronomy, accounted for just 7.8% of the 2007 budget and eked out a measly 0.8% increase over the prior year to reach $3.8 billion. Outlays for chemistry fared a bit better than those for the physical sciences as a whole, rising 2.4% to $1.4 billion, for a 2.9% share of the total R&D budget.
On a constant-dollar basis, however, chemistry spending actually shrank 0.3% from 2006 to 2007. Between 1997 and 2007, chemical R&D spending grew a total of 40.7% in constant dollars versus 76.2% in current dollars.
R&D spending in the engineering sector, which accounted for 15.2% of the total budget, rose 6.0% in current dollars to $7.5 billion in 2007. But that growth was uneven: Chemical engineering spending rose a healthy 7.5% to $602 million, for a 1.2% share of the total, whereas materials engineering spending slipped 0.8% to $638 million, or 1.3% of the total.
Chemical and materials engineering also fared differently in terms of federal support. Federally financed chemical engineering spending grew 1.3% in 2007 to $324 million, but materials engineering spending fell 1.0% to $382 million. Federal investment in engineering as a whole rose 3.6% to $4.5 billion.
Federal support for science R&D in academe grew just 0.6% in 2007 to $26.0 billion. Within the science sector, federally backed life sciences spending edged up 0.4% to $18.3 billion. Chemistry’s $969 million outlay topped the prior year’s by a meager 0.1%.
The largest federal allotment of funding for chemical R&D in 2007 went to California Institute of Technology. Its $28.8 million allocation was very close to the prior year’s. On the other hand, second-place Harvard University’s $25.6 million share was 19.1% slimmer than its share in 2006. The next three schools—the University of California, San Diego; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC); and UC Berkeley—received nearly $20 million apiece.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology placed first in terms of federal support for chemical engineering R&D. It received $13.6 million in 2007, up 3.6% from 2006. Johns Hopkins University enjoyed a 26.7% boost to $11.0 million, followed in support by Pennsylvania State University; the State University of New York, Buffalo; and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Ohio State University topped the list of schools that shelled out the most money from all sources combined for chemical engineering R&D in 2007. It more than doubled its outlay compared with 2006, to $25.6 million. The school blew past MIT, whose spending edged up 0.9% to $19.0 million to garner second place. Penn State, Georgia Institute of Technology, and SUNY Buffalo rounded out the top five.
For the third year in a row, Caltech spent more than any other school on chemical R&D. Its $35.4 million investment in 2007 represented a 3.2% expansion over 2006. Harvard came in second, also for the third year in a row, despite a 14.5% drop in spending to $29.0 million. UC Berkeley also maintained its third-place ranking by increasing its outlay 3.5% to $28.3 million.
UIUC rose a spot to fourth place with $28.0 million in spending. A modest increase to $23.7 million boosted Texas A&M University from 10th to fifth place. Georgia Tech; UC San Francisco; UC San Diego; UCLA; and the University of Texas, Austin, followed. Both UC San Diego and UCLA were new to the top 10 list of spenders in 2007, displacing Rutgers and Penn State.
As a group, colleges and universities spent $111.1 million on chemical research equipment in 2007, 7.8% less than in the prior year. That economizing wasn’t evident at the top 25 schools, which boosted spending 31.6% to $43.6 million.
Indiana University again took top honors by shelling out $3.1 million, and the University of Akron placed second by spending $2.8 million. They were followed by UC San Diego; Rutgers; and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Federal support for chemical research equipment slid 8.2% to $72.2 million in 2007. Again, the top 25 schools were insulated from this retrenchment; they received $29.7 million thanks to a 25.3% hike in their funding. The largest federal grants went to UC San Diego, UNC Chapel Hill, UIUC, Purdue University, and Rutgers.
The long-term slow growth in the number of students seeking graduate degrees in chemistry ended quietly in 2007 with the number of candidates slipping 0.2% to 21,298. On the other hand, 7,584 chemical engineering students pursued graduate degrees, 4.4% more than in the prior year. As usual, half the chemical engineering students and more than one-third of the chemistry students were from outside the U.S.
Postdoctoral appointments in chemistry declined 2.3% to 3,952, but chemical engineers fared better, with appointments expanding 7.5% to 790.
Data for this article were drawn primarily from NSF’s WebCASPAR database of academic science and engineering statistics, which can be accessed online at webcaspar.nsf.gov. Further information came from NSF’s annual “Academic Research & Development Expenditures” report, which can be viewed at www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf09303.
- Academic R&D Spending Trends
(C&EN, October 26, 2009, pp. 26-30, 376 KB)
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Note that numbers from different tables may not match because of rounding.
On average, annual growth in spending for chemistry has lagged that for life sciences since 1997
Growth in chemistry spending, although healthy on average during the prior decade, was essentially flat in 2007
Growth at top 50 schools was much slower in 2007 than the annual average for the prior decade
Federal funding fell at 21 of the top 50 schools in 2007
Top schools invested only 2.3% of their R&D funds in chemistry
2007 was the fifth year in a row that R&D budget growth slowed
Federal share shrank a bit in 2007
Gains in outlays for chemistry equipment seen in 2006 were relinquished in 2007
Top 25 institutions' spending rose by one-third in 2007
Although total funding for all institutions shrank 8% in 2007, funding at the top 25 rose by 25%
Total growth at all institutions in 2007 topped the average annual growth for the prior decade
Average growth at the top 25 was considerably greater than at other institutions in 2007
Number of grad students studying chemistry dipped in 2007
More than one-third of chemistry and half of chemical engineering grad students were from outside the U.S. in 2007
Number of chemistry postdocs continued to slide in 2007, but chemical engineering numbers surged
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