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Trends in Federal Support of Research and Graduate Education
contract laboratories) but with one exception do not separately report these figures by field of science and engineering. The six largest R&D supporting agencies report research performed by universities and colleges by field and also by whether it is basic or applied research. However, research performed in industry or government laboratories is not reported by field.
Anomalies. Unexplained discontinuities in the data usually prompt NSF/SRS or its contractor to inquire about the source of anomaly, which may be a genuine change in priorities or a reclassification. Beginning with FY 1996, the reporting unit for NSF, for example, changed its procedures for classifying research obligations by field. The change most affected engineering, where the amount classified as “n.e.c.” by NSF jumped from 20 percent to 40 percent of engineering research, while mechanical engineering dropped from 13 percent to 2 percent of NSF engineering research funding. Because NSF is the second largest funder of mechanical engineering (after the Department of Defense), the total amount of funds for mechanical engineering appeared to drop by 30.1 percent from FY 1995 to FY 1996, although almost certainly any shift in NSF’s portfolio was not as significant. A similar shift into the n.e.c. category occurred in the classification of physical science research, which especially affected physics. The NSF-reported increase in oceanography research and drop in geology research from 1995 to 1996 may also have involved reclassification of some activities from one category to another rather than a real change.
Features of our analysis. In this report, the current dollar expenditure data from the Federal Funds Survey are converted to constant 1999 dollars, using the official deflators issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in February 2001.1 Subfields of the social sciences and psychology are not considered in this report because of the high proportion of research in both major fields reported as “n.e.c.” “Engineering, n.e.c.,” called other engineering in this report is included in the analysis because it encompasses a series of discrete fields (e.g. biomedical, nuclear, etc.) constituting a significant part of the discipline rather than a residual category for unclassifiable or multidisciplinary research. Accordingly, our analysis is based on trends in 22 subfields, counting social sciences and psychology as subfields. Most of the analysis is based on actual obligations through FY 1999, the last year for which subfield data are available. In some instances, trends in broad fields are reported through FY 2000, because of the reliability of the estimations for that year in contrast to the estimations for FY 2001. In describing trends in the affected fields the report tries to take into account the affects of the 1996 changes in NSF classification criteria affecting reported obligations in certain fields.
SURVEY OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT EXPENDITURES AT UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES
The university R&D expenditures survey has collected data annually from a sample of education institutions that grant science and engineering degrees and perform a minimum level of separately budgeted R&D. Three years ago the survey was expanded to a census of all research universities. Respondents are usually central administrative staff who consult with their academic departments that are receiving support.
Character and field of research. The major fields and subfield classifications used in this survey are virtually the same as those used in the Federal Funds Survey, but institutions are not asked to disaggregate R&D into basic, applied, and development categories. Thus, funds for research and funds for development cannot be distinguished as they are in the Federal Funds Survey.
Unclassified research. Academic respondents may avail themselves of the same “not elsewhere classified” categories in each major field and overall. “N.e.c” research is highest in engineering (22 percent in a recent survey), lowest in the life sciences (4 percent), and about 10 percent overall, or lower than reported in the Federal Funds Survey.
Sources of support. NSF asks for total expenditures by field and federal expenditures by field. This enables one to derive data on nonfederal sources of support but not to disaggregate these data further, for example, to determine how state government or industry or philanthropic support varies by field and over time.
Discrepancies between the surveys. The university survey results show higher levels of support for academic research overall and in most fields than do the Federal Funds Survey results. For example, federal obligations for academic electrical engineering research declined in constant dollars by more than 30 percent between 1993 and 1997. But according to the academic R&D survey, federally funded R&D expenditures in that field increased
Office of Management and Budget. 2001. Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal Year 2002, Table 10.1. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
National Research Council. 2000. Measuring the Science and Engineering Enterprise: Priorities for the Division of Science Resources Studies, pp. 94–95. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. The National Academies’ report observes that the gap between federal obligations to universities and the level of federally funded R&D expenditures by universities opened in 1992 and has been growing, to about $1.9 billion in 1997. A much larger discrepancy exists between the results of the Federal Funds Survey and NSF’s Survey of Industrial R&D with respect to the size of federally funded R&D expenditures in industry (p. 47).