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Policy

Federal backing for university research continues decline

by Andrea Widener
November 28, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 47

For the fourth straight year, federal support for R&D at U.S. universities fell in 2015, says an NSF report on how much universities spent and the sources of that funding. This inflation-adjusted decline of 13% over four years marks the longest fall in academic research funding since NSF began collecting data in 1972. The $37.9 billion in federal support accounted for 55.2% of R&D spending at universities in 2015, down from 62.5% in 2011. However, the overall picture for science isn’t all bleak. Spending is up from $65.3 billion in 2011 to $68.7 billion in 2015, including a 2.2% jump from 2014 to 2015. That is driven primarily by growth in spending from businesses, which was up 7.5%; nonprofit organizations, up 6.9%; and the universities themselves, up 5.9%. Research spending in many individual science disciplines in 2015 matched that trend, with a 2.2% increase from 2014 in all science spending by universities. Chemistry was up 2.0% to $1.8 billion in 2015, and chemical engineering was up 0.9% to $915 million.

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