R&D at Colleges and Universities


The federal government has historically played a major role in funding university-based R&D performance. Since the middle of the 20th century, the federal government has funded a majority of university R&D work, reaching as high as 73 percent in the late 1960s. This proportion has declined in the past few decades, though it surged during the NIH budget doubling campaign between 1998 and 2003, and the federal share of university R&D remains around 60 percent. In inflation-adjusted dollars, federal support for universities increased from around $8 billion per year in the 1960s to more than $30 billion today. Since 2005, federal support for universities flattened out as federal research support overall as flattened, though this has recovered somewhat due to the temporary boost from the Recovery Act.

Meanwhile, industry’s share of total support has increased from less than 3 percent of all university R&D in the 1960s to 6 percent today. Academic institutions themselves are also paying for a greater share, accounting for less than 10 percent in the late 1960s, and more than 20 percent today. According to the latest NSF data, total university-performed R&D now surpasses $55 billion a year in inflation-adjusted dollars, with universities themselves accounting for roughly $12 billion.

Detailed historical data and data on federal R&D by institution, discipline, etc., and data on other funding sources for university R&D are collected by the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Publication series that track higher education R&D funding include Federal Funds for Research and Development, Federal Science and Engineering Support to Universities, Colleges, and Nonprofit Institutions and Higher Education Research and Development, among others. Much of the data on this page are drawn from these sources; follow the above links for more.


Series Chart Data Last Update
University S&E R&D Funding By Source, 1990-2016 JPG Excel December 2017
Source By Share of Total, 1990-2016 JPG
Federal Support for Universities by Agency, 1990-2015 (Obligations) JPG Excel September 2017

Total By Discipline

Series Chart Data Last Update
Computer Sciences JPG Excel December 2017
Environmental Sciences (w/ subfields) JPG
Life Sciences (w/ subfields) JPG
Mathematical Sciences JPG
Physical Sciences (w/ subfields) JPG
Psychology JPG
Social Sciences (w/ subfields) JPG
Engineering (w/ subfields) JPG
Other JPG
University Disciplines Most Reliant on Federal Funding, FY 2016 JPG Excel December 2017


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