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September 30, 2010

Pitt drops to 22nd in NSF R&D spending survey

Although Pitt’s science and engineering research expenditures continue to climb, the University fell out of the top 20 schools in the National Science Foundation (NSF) annual survey of research and development (R&D) expenditures at universities and colleges.

Pitt’s fiscal year 2009 R&D expenditures for science and engineering (S&E) on all campuses combined totaled $623.3 million, placing the University at No. 22 among the nation’s top research institutions. Pitt ranked No. 17 in last year’s survey with $595.6 million in science and engineering R&D expenditures in FY08.

According to NSF, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the University of Colorado each increased their R&D spending by more than $100 million, displacing Pitt and the University of Florida from the top 20. Colorado ranked 18th with $648.4 million, followed by UNC-Chapel Hill at No. 19 with $646 million.

Two Pennsylvania schools made the top 20: Penn State (all campuses) rose to No. 9 with $753 million, up from No. 11. Penn fell to No. 12 with $726.8 million, down from No. 9 last year.

The survey’s top five institutions have remained the same since FY04. Johns Hopkins had the highest R&D expenditures with nearly $1.86 billion in FY09. Rounding out the leaders were the University of Michigan, $1 billion; the University of Wisconsin-Madison, $952 million; the University of California-San Francisco, $947.7 million, and UCLA, $890 million.

Academic R&D spending rises

NSF found that overall university spending on R&D for science and engineering among the 711 institutions surveyed rose 5.8 percent to $54.9 billion in FY09.

Pitt’s increase was slightly below average, with an increase of 4.7 percent over FY08’s $595.6 million.

R&D at public institutions

Among public institutions, Pitt ranked No. 15 in FY09, down from No. 11 last year.

Topping the list of public institutions were Michigan, Wisconsin-Madison, UC-San Francisco and UCLA, all of which made the overall top five. At No. 5 among publics was the University of  California-San  Diego  with $879 million.

Penn State rose one spot among public institutions to No. 7 with $753 million in science and engineering R&D expenditures.

Sources of funding

The federal government spent $32.6 billion on academic S&E research funding in FY09, an increase of 4.2 percent. It remained by far the largest source of such funding. Institutions invested a collective $11.2 billion of their own money in S&E R&D (an increase of 7.6 percent), making internal funding the second-largest source. State and local government support grew to $3.6 billion, up 5.7 percent. Industry funding rose to $3.2 billion, up 11.6 percent in FY09. Funding from other sources rose to $4.3 billion, up 9.6 percent.

Among public institutions, federal funding contributed 54 percent of the academic R&D total, with institutional funds covering 24 percent, state and local government contributing 8.6 percent, industry funding 5.8 percent and other sources covering 7.3 percent.

At Pitt, the figures are more heavily skewed toward federal dollars. Of Pitt’s $623.3 million in research expenditures, 74 percent was funded with federal dollars, with institutional funds accounting for 16 percent, other sources adding 5.5 percent, state and local government funding 2.6 percent and industry funding 1.5 percent.

Funding by field

Life sciences accounted for $32.8 billion in overall academic R&D expenditures at the surveyed institutions, with more than half that amount invested in medical ($18.2 billion) and biological sciences ($10.2 billion) research.

At Pitt, life sciences R&D made up the vast majority of expenditures at 87 percent ($544.4 million). Engineering R&D made up 4 percent of Pitt’s total, followed by physical sciences with 3 percent. Rounding out Pitt’s S&E R&D expenditures by field were: sciences not elsewhere classified, 1.76 percent; psychology, 1.3 percent; math and computer sciences, 1.38 percent; social sciences, 0.6 percent, and environmental sciences, 0.3 percent.

Non-S&E R&D

In this category, Pitt ranked No. 108 in FY09, with research expenditures in non-S&E fields totaling $5.74 million. The bulk of those R&D expenditures (77 percent) were in the subfield of education, $4.4 million. Other subfields included business and management, 11 percent; humanities, 7.8 percent; law, 3.7 percent, and communication, journalism and library science, 0.1 percent.


The academic R&D expenditures data cover 711 universities and colleges that grant degrees in the sciences or engineering and expended at least $150,000 in S&E R&D in FY09. According to NSF, the amounts reported include “all funds expended for S&E activities specifically organized to produce research outcomes and sponsored by an outside organization or separately budgeted using institution funds. R&D expenditures at university-administered federally funded research and development centers are collected in a separate survey.” Non-S&E R&D expenditures are reported separately in the survey and are not included in the overall R&D expenditure totals.

Changes for next year

According to NSF, the annual survey is being renamed and revamped for FY2010 to improve the validity of the expenditure data and to include additional details requested by data users. Next year’s Higher Education R&D (HERD) Survey will continue to track R&D expenditures by funding source and field, but will be expanded to include R&D expenditures both in S&E as well as non-S&E fields. Other changes include a definition of R&D that explicitly includes research training grants and clinical trials and specific tracking of R&D expenditures funded by nonprofit institutions. These had been included in “other sources.”

In addition, institutions with multiple campuses headed by separate administration (such as a campus-level president) will be asked to report separately.

New data that will be collected are: R&D expenditures funded by foreign sources; R&D expenditures by type of funding mechanism (contracts or grants); R&D expenditures within an institution’s medical school; clinical trial expenditures; R&D expenditures by character of work (basic research, applied research, and development); detail by field (both S&E and non-S&E) for R&D expenditures from each source of funding; R&D expenditures funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; total R&D expenditures by direct cost categories (salaries, software, equipment), and headcounts of principal investigators and others paid with R&D funds.

The FY09 statistics are available online at

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 43 Issue 3

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