Sequestration impacting U.S. universities

Federal R&D policy and implications of budget sequestration are the largest factors in funding for U.S. academic research, which has dropped from a recent high of 6% annual funding increases in 2011 to a forecast of 2% in 2014. Long recognized as an essential scientific foundation of U.S. innovation, academic research programs have been under pressure as a result.

Highlights of the academic research enterprise include:

  • Academia performs about 60% of all U.S. basic research.
  • Federal funding for academia will increase 2.5% in 2014.
  • U.S. universities continue to lead world rankings.
  • ARRA funding for academia has expired.

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U.S. Standing Among World’s Top Universities

Source: Times Higher Education rankings

Funding Trends & Outlook
In response to the 2009-2010 recession, the ARRA added about $18 billion of federal investments to baseline funding for academic research. These funds extended from 2010 to 2012, boosting research activity in those years. With the bolus of ARRA funding past, federal investments in academic R&D declined from 2012 to 2013, resulting in flat funding levels when all sources are taken into account.

By a number of measures, U.S. academic R&D remains globally competitive and respected. The scale of university research activity is indicated by 2011 spending, which is the most recent year for which comprehensive data are available. Several institutions exceeded $1 billion in research that year, including Johns Hopkins University (including the Applied Physics Laboratory), the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Washington at Seattle, the University of Wisconsin at Madison (including WARF), Duke University, the University of California at San Diego and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (including Lincoln Laboratory). At the system level, the University of California and the University of Texas topped the list, accounting for $5.4 billion and $2.5 billion in research, respectively. Looking ahead, funding at these institutions will continue to be among the $63 billion expected to be spent on U.S. academic research in 2014—which is more than the whole-country totals for all but the top four non-U.S. nations.

In Their Own Words

Comment from the Battelle/R&D Magazine Global Researcher Survery

Over the coming years, it will be increasingly critical to clarify the role of universities and their relationship to corporations in technology development. An understanding of this relationship will be necessary to drive policy decisions, both in terms of the university teaching mission and the research carried out at universities. If universities are expected to perform as for-profit companies, driven by short-term returns on investment, then the foundations upon which major high-risk scientific discoveries are made will eventually erode. As these research centers are slowly lost, so too will be lost the supply of highly trained researchers who drive innovation and competition. - Academic Researcher/U.S.

Strong Position Masks Emerging Concerns
The Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings reflect continued leadership of U.S. educational institutions, many of which are also the leading performers of publicly funded R&D for the nation. THE rankings are based on teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

Despite this positive track record, the U.S. academic research enterprise faces challenges, many of which were expressed as concerns by researchers responding to the survey on which this forecast is partly based:

  • Effect of reduced U.S. federal R&D funding (84%).
  • Insufficient R&D budget to accomplish goals (66%).
  • Increasing costs (50%).
  • Difficulties in finding qualified R&D staff (48%).
  • Increasing regulations (44%).

Academic researchers are also confronted by the emergence of global competitors, changing demographics and rapidly evolving technologies. Among the responses to these concerns is a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences entitled “Research Universities and the Future of America,” which makes ten recommendations that recognize the association between university research and U.S. prosperity and security.