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2013 research expenditure data show UW-Madison ranks 4th

February 5, 2015 By Terry Devitt

Photo: Lynn Haynes in the School of Medicine and Public Health

Lynn Haynes, distinguished researcher in UW–Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health, works at her lab last April. UW–Madison research expenditures ranked fourth among universities nationwide in 2013, according to new figures. 


According to figures released yesterday by the National Science Foundation (NSF), research expenditures at the University of Wisconsin–Madison took a slight dip in 2013, landing Wisconsin’s flagship university in the number four spot among universities nationwide.

In 2013, UW–Madison spent slightly more than $1.1 billion on research of all kinds, according to NSF’s Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey. 2013 expenditures of $1,123,501,000 were down from $1,169,779,000 for fiscal 2012 expenditures, a difference of a little more than $46 million.

Photo: Marsha Mailick

Marsha Mailick

UW-Madison ranked behind only Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan and the University of Washington. UW–Madison has consistently ranked among the top five universities overall for research expenditures, money secured from all sources — federal, private and state — for more than 20 years.

The $1.1 billion UW–Madison research portfolio is built largely through the work of faculty and staff researchers who successfully compete for federal and private support to fund their labs, including faculty, staff and student salaries as well as supplies and equipment. By sheer volume of research, UW–Madison outperforms all of the Ivy League schools, including Harvard and Yale, and many other other prominent state universities such as the University of California, Berkeley.

“The number is down a bit,” notes Interim Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Marsha Mailick. “The federal government is spending less and the competition for fewer research dollars is fierce. We seem to be holding our own, thanks to the quality of our faculty, staff and student researchers, and we need to position ourselves strategically to compete successfully for research grants, which is critically important to our ability to generate new knowledge and support Wisconsin residents”

However, Mailick noted that the university’s ability to attract and retain the highest quality faculty, staff and student researchers is contingent upon state support for its core missions. The significant budget cut proposed for UW–Madison and the UW System could threaten the ability of the university to continue to be successful as one of the nation’s top research universities.

Academic researchers and universities have been buffeted in recent years due to declining federal budgets for research, as well as developments such as the brief shutdown of the federal government in 2013, which stopped work on some projects and delayed new awards and funding increments. Sequestration and the end of the one-time funds distributed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 have contributed to a smaller pool of resources available for university researchers.

Overall U.S. university spending on research in all fields totaled $67.2 billion. When adjusted for inflation, higher education research and development increased by less than half a percent in fiscal 2013.

The HERD survey is the primary source of data for research and development expenditures in American higher education. The survey sampled 891 degree-granting institutions spending at least $150,000 on research.

The new NSF figures reflect expenditures in all scholarly areas, including science, engineering, business, the social sciences, education and the arts and humanities. In science and engineering fields, UW–Madison researchers in 2013 landed federal awards totaling roughly $533.2 million, down from $557.6 million in fiscal 2012.

The vast majority of research dollars are secured through competitive grants for specified research projects.

Primarily, funding for academic research, including at UW–Madison, comes from a constellation of federal agencies: the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others.