Stay in the loop! Subscribe to our mailing list

More spending on R&D by US higher education institutions

According to recent data released by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, of the National Science Foundation (NSF), universities’ spending for R&D in the United States has increased by 6.9% between the financial years 2009 and 2010 (6% if adjusted for inflation). The data was collected through the Higher Education R&D Survey (HERD) carried out in the financial year 2010. The new survey contains several important changes compared to its predecessor – the Survey of R&D Expenditures at Universities and Colleges. The most significant of them was the inclusion of R&D spending in non-science and engineering fields, like business, education, and law, into the overall reported totals. Data were obtained from 742 universities and colleges that award Bachelor and higher degrees and that spent at least USD 150 000 (EUR 113 150) in R&D in the survey period.

According to the NSF, the 6.9% increase corresponds to USD 61.2 billion (EUR 46.1 billion), and is largely due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This act increased the share of federally-funded R&D spending to 61%, which corresponds to USD 37.5 billion (EUR 28.2 billion) of the grand total.

Regarding the expenditure level by field of study, all the ten main fields covered by the survey registered growth, except for social sciences, which experienced a decline of more than 4%. Nevertheless, at least part of this apparent decrease seems to have been caused by the methodological changes in the survey design, rather than by other factors. Of the ten fields, life sciences account by far for the largest share, i.e. USD 34.9 billion (EUR 26.3 billion) of the USD 61.2 billion (EUR 46.1 billion) total. They are followed by engineering, with USD 9.3 billion (EUR 7 billion) in reported R&D expenditure. As for the subfields, medical sciences continue to hold the largest share of the total, namely 31% or USD 19.2 billion (EUR 14.5 billion) in the same year.

Regarding the nature of R&D expenditure, of the grand total, 67% was classified as basic research, 25% as applied research, and 9% as development. The data further offer information on R&D spending by federal agency and non-federal sources, and by cost categories.

As most of this increase was due to a one-time legislative act, however, it remains uncertain for the moment whether this upward trend is likely to continue in the financial year 2011 or not.

National Science Foundation