Monday, April 02, 2012

R&D Spending at US Universities

The National Science Foundation has released the data for 2010 (2009 data can be found here).

Unsurprisingly, Johns Hopkins tops the list with a research budget of just over 2 billion dollars of which over 85% is from federal funding sources. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor is at #2 with an R&D spending of $1.184; The Universities of Wisconsin and Washington, at #3 and #4, respectively, join Johns Hopkins and UMichigan to form the rather exclusive Billion Dollar Club.

And the total R&D spending in all the universities exceeded $60 billion in 2010!

A few years ago, I tried to estimate the R&D spending of Indian institutions -- it's a difficult and imprecise exercise because we don't get disaggregated data on academic R&D spending exclusive of spending for higher education [if you know of a source of such data, please let me know]. I arrived at a figure of about 450 million dollars for all of India].

I don't know what India's academic R&D spending is now, some five years since that exercise. Perhaps it has doubled to about a billion dollars? Maybe it's two billion dollars now?

The NSF data on US universities are worth keeping in mind (Johns Hopkins is bigger than all of India!) when people pipe up with questions about when India will become a scientific superpower.


  1. page.no12 said...

    For 2012-2013

  2. iitmsriram said...

    I think your previous attempt started at the other end, from the government budgets. Would it not be possible to do a survey similar to the NSF survey? At least of the IITs, the annual report of their sponsored research offices should give these numbers right away.

  3. Rainbow Scientist said...

    A significant portion of these federal grants are faculty, students and post-doc salaries which are much higher in USA in direct dollar to rupee values than in India, so it does not reflect direct investment, so consider this before arriving to any conclusion.

  4. Unknown said...

    +1 to Rainbow Scientist. Also don't forget to add health insurance and indirect costs (nearly 60% of total budget) and you can see that the actual money for doing research is maybe 10-15% (about 6-8 billion) of the actual funding. Don't know if its the same for India; assuming its 2 billion all as direct costs, it's not too shabby.
    Another thing to note is that the 60 billion figure includes doctors who conduct research; most (almost 100%) of their salaries come from grants (so-called soft money). If you break-down Johns Hopkins, you will see that the lions share of funding goes to the med school!

  5. Vikram said...

    Rainbow Scientist is indeed spot on. As unknown (?) points out above, we must bear in mind that nearly a third (31 %) of the funding goes towards research in medicine and health areas. I am not sure if a dollar to dollar comparison with a developed country like the US will really give us much valuable information about the state of India's research ecosystem. The US is 15 times richer per capita and their economic expansion is almost completely driven by innovation.

  6. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    Not exactly related to the topic of this post, but I wonder: for a US funding agency, can it get the same research as in US done in India, but at a fraction of the cost? If so, isn't there a massive opportunity for "research outsourcing"?

  7. Abi said...

    @Rainbow Scientist: The NSF web page has some data on the fraction of the 61+ billion dollars that went into salaries, fringe benefits, etc, and that fraction is about 42% (or, 25 billion dollars).

    My larger point is about the scale of the US research enterprise (reflected in the funding), and it is brought out even more clearly by this figure of 25 billion dollars for, broadly, "personnel costs". Even if one assumes a generous estimate of $100,000 per year per person (remember, a huge majority of them are students and post-docs, who earn far less), the US system supports over 250,000 people!

    @Unknown: I'm surprised to see the assertion about (academic) doctors earning pretty much all their salaries through research funding. Is this a well documented fact? Any citation?

    @Unknown, @Vikram: Yes, a big part of the US research funding is for biomedical sciences, whereas in India the basket contains a different mix. But I don't see how it negates the point about the difference in scale of the research enterprise in the two countries.

    @Ankur: I think I have made this point elsewhere, but it's worth repeating: about the only input into research that costs less in India is manpower. Almost all the other inputs (equipment, infrastructure, consumables ...) are about as expensive as in the US. In fact, I would argue the other inputs actually cost more in India because of power back-ups, longer down-times (due to difficulty in getting spares), etc.

    In any case, any talk about research outsourcing will lead to a huge shrinkage of research funding (in any country). This is because, a big justification for funding is generating well-trained research manpower.

  8. Ungrateful Alive said...

    In a meeting last year in presence of IIX diros and such like, someone (tongue in cheek but not totally) proposed, in increasing order of crudeness, citation per entropy bit, citation per joule, papers per entropy bit, and papers per joule as better measures of research productivity than just budget or number of papers. I felt in USA as well as India, you will find there is some middle range of project budgets that maximize the above metrics. Supersized multi-university consortium projects are almost always more hot air (joules) than substance (citations), and projects that are too small often fail to hit their mark. Perhaps two faculty members who work very well together, together with 2--4 students, hits the spot best in most disciplines.

  9. Vinay said...

    How about reporting the actual spending (minus health care and fringe benefits) on research based on purchase power parity (ppp) dollar? Would this give a better idea. Since, the cheapest cup of coffee in Canada(e.g.) is CA$1.24, whereas the cheapest cup of coffee in India is around the Rs. 8 mark.

  10. Vijay Sethuraman said...

    Prof. Abi, your estimate of $100,000 per person is not generous at all. For instance, a postdoc who earns $45,000 per year ends up costing $90,000 to the grant that supports him/her. This is because of overhead charged by the institution, in addition to health insurance, retirement, social security taxes, etc. Postdocs in national labs earn 1.5-2 times more and are much costlier. And graduate students nowadays cost more because faculty members are expected to pay tuition as well as provide financial assistance. And tuition has gone up lately!

  11. Abi said...

    @Vinay: As I said earlier in this comment thread, research costs in India are probably more than they are elsewhere (except, of course, the researchers and the coffee they drink). In other words, the PPP index for non-personnel costs is probably less than 1.0.

    @Vijay: Take a look at the NSF web page again: indirect costs (which, I presume, would include the overheads) are mentioned separately there.

    The figure of 25 billion dollars is just for "salaries, wages, and fringe benefits".

  12. Unknown said...

    check this link:

    particularly pages 7 and 9

  13. Rainbow Scientist said...

    Abi, You are right. The US system overall supports much bigger percentage of population. Not only the scientists, but the big amount supporting staff (lab managers, grant administrators, facility technitians etc) also are included in this enterprize and therefore salary is the biggest expense in any resaerch grant unless the grant is for equipment. Another big expense is the service dollar for using any of the university's common resaerch resources. Typical rate can vary from $10 to few hundred dollars per hour depending upon how fancy is the instrument and if the animals/humans are involve in the research.

    I think what India needs is a lot of investment in equipments. My university alone probably have number of top notch instruments in all fields equal to all of Indian Institutes together (this estimate is a few years old, based on my own resaerch area and I hope things are bit better now, but don't know). This allows easy availability of instrument and services for experimental research and to test the new or novel ideas at a much higher speed. Each of this facility is maintained by a qualified staff (in most cases PhD and post-doc experiance holder). Biomedical research can not survive without these supports. But in the end most of the grant is consumed by these expenses and sometime I wish socialist style free availability of everything :)

  14. Ungrateful Alive said...

    "I wish socialist style free availability of everything" --- On Simultaneous Possession and Ingestion of Sugary Wheat Comestibles?