UW among top 10 in national research ranking

November 15, 2019 By Natasha Kassulke

The National Science Foundation (NSF) released its 2018 fiscal year Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) data and the University of Wisconsin–Madison ranks 8th in the national research rankings for public and private universities.

The data show the university remains a research powerhouse, with nearly $1.21 billion in annual expenditures for research across all fields, about half of which come from federal awards. UW–Madison’s federal expenditures grew by 1.3 percent compared to the previous fiscal year.

The HERD survey is the primary source of information on research and development expenditures at American universities and colleges. The survey gathers data on federal R&D expenditures by field of research and source of funds, and gathers information on types of research expenses and number of R&D personnel. More than 910 universities responded to the survey in fiscal year 2018.

A significant proportion of UW–Madison’s academic research funding comes from the federal government. Additional sources include state and local government, industry, nonprofit organizations, and foundations that support the university. The two most significant private contributors of research support to UW–Madison are the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and the UW Foundation. For fiscal year 2019, WARF awarded the university $80 million.

Starting in 1972 when the HERD survey began, and annually through 2014, UW–Madison ranked in the top five in the nation in research spending. However, the institution dropped to 6th in fiscal year 2015 following a decline in federal expenditures and loss of senior faculty.

“I am disappointed to see a drop in the HERD ranking. UW–Madison expenditures have increased, but other universities realized greater growth in their research enterprise,” says Steve Ackerman, interim vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “We also know that slight differences in reporting methodology can produce huge differences in expenditures from one institution to another, and from one year to the next.”

The HERD Survey is one campus leaders take seriously, Ackerman says. However, it’s just one measure of academic research activity and success.

UW–Madison is a demonstrated leader in training the next generation of researchers and the broad scientific workforce. According to the NSF, UW–Madison produces more PhDs than any other institution.

Research at the university also contributes to the state and local economies. In Wisconsin, UW–Madison-related startup companies support nearly 25,000 jobs and contribute $2.3 billion to the state economy.

Faculty hiring is also a priority at UW–Madison. This includes an ongoing investment in the faculty cluster hiring initiative. Cluster hires foster collaboration by generating research areas that cross the boundaries of existing academic departments.

In 2017, UW–Madison began the first of four rounds of cluster hires, in areas such as human cancer genetics and precision medicine, quantum science and engineering, and foundations of data science. Thirty new faculty positions have been hired since, with an additional 16 hires expected to begin in 2020.

“As these new faculty get established on campus we expect to see new and exciting research endeavors launched,” Ackerman says.

Additionally, investments such as the UW2020 WARF Discovery Initiative have encouraged innovative, interdisciplinary projects in data science, quantum computing and other emerging areas. The university recently established the School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences; received $11.8 million from the National Institutes of Health to lead coordination of the National Cancer Institute Cancer Prevention Clinical Trials Network; and is leading a $37 million upgrade of the IceCube Neutrino Laboratory.

“The university’s research enterprise continues to be a hotbed of innovation and discovery,” Ackerman says. “It’s a place where researchers continue to advance knowledge and where our tradition of the Wisconsin Idea translates those discoveries to applications that benefit the residents of Wisconsin and beyond.”

He adds: “There’s no doubt that at UW–Madison, we operate at a high level in a very competitive global research environment.”