Although brief in length, a recent report by the Science and
Technology Policy Institute for the National Science Foundation raises
important questions that will be long discussed about the conduct of
university-based R&D in the United States. "Vital Assets:
Federal Investment in Research and Development at the Nation's Universities
and Colleges" is the first truly comprehensive data analysis
of federal R&D spending at America's institutions of higher learning.
Although primarily a reference document, the report poses several important
science policy and budgetary questions, chief among them being:
"The profile of federally funded R&D at universities and
colleges that emerges from this analysis raises issues of proportionality.
Specifically, in the current funding profile, approximately two-thirds
of the federal funds going to universities and colleges for the conduct
of R&D is focused on only one field of science life science
and federal R&D funding is concentrated at only a few research
universities. These findings raise questions about whether other critical
national needs that have substantial R&D components (such as environment,
energy, homeland security, and education) are receiving the investment
they require and whether the concentration of dollars at a few institutions
is shortchanging science students at institutions that receive little
or no federal R&D funding."
The report's lead author, Donna Fossum, and her colleagues framed this
question after compiling and analyzing a database known as RaDiUS (Research
and Development in the United States.) The database was developed for
the White House Office of Science and Technology Office by the RAND
Corporation, which operated the Institute, a federally funded research
and development center, from 1992 to 2003. As explained in the report,
the database tracks, "at both the aggregate and the detailed
level, all the activities that are supported each fiscal year with the
funds officially reported as paying for (i.e., purchasing) the conduct
of R&D' in the Budget of the U.S. Government," for four-year
accredited public and private U.S. colleges and universities.
Using this historical database, the report's authors were able to make
significant conclusions about R&D funding in the United States.
Among them are:
From FY 1996 through FY 2002, total federal discretionary funding increased
by 27.9%. In this same period, total federal R&D funding increased
20.9%. Also in this period, total federal R&D funding to universities
and colleges increased by 45.7%. (All figures controlled for inflation.)
In FY 2002, medical schools received 44.9% or $9.6 billion of the $21.4
billion in federal R&D funds made available to universities and
In FY 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided
67% of all federal R&D funding to universities (medical and non-medical
school R&D.) Subtracting funding for medical schools resulted in
HHS being the source of 40.6% of federal R&D funds.
Other major sources of federal R&D funding in FY 2002 were the National
Science Foundation at 11%, Department of Defense at 7%, NASA at 5%,
Department of Energy at 4%, and USDA at 3%.
In FY 2002, the top 80 universities and colleges received 71% of total
federal R&D funding to academic institutions.
From FY 1996 to FY 2002, 55% of all federal R&D university funding
went to institutions in nine states (CA, IL, MD, MA, MI, NY, NC, PA
In addition to the 59-page report, there is an appendix containing
detailed state charts listing every university or college receiving
federal R&D funds for research in FY 2002, and the amount received.
The report and the appendix can be viewed at http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1824/
In the report's conclusions, the authors reiterate four important questions
raised at the outset of the report:
"Are biomedical and health care issues so clearly at the top
of the nation's agenda that they merit two-thirds of all federal funds
provided to universities and colleges for the conduct of R&D?"
"Are other critical national needs that have substantial R&D
components (such as environment, energy, homeland security, and education)
getting the attention they require?"
"Are science and engineering students at universities and colleges
that do not receive a notable share of federal R&D funds receiving
a lower-quality education? Are their career opportunities hampered as
Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics