Federal funding for basic research at US colleges and universities stagnant in FY 2012 | The American Ceramic Society

Federal funding for basic research at US colleges and universities stagnant in FY 2012


[Image above] Basic research at colleges and universities across the U.S. was flat in FY 2012, according to data from the National Science Foundation. Credit: fsecart, Flickr; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When it comes to federal funding, things aren’t always what they seem.

When you’re up, you’re up. But when you’re down, you’re “mostly unchanged.”

Such is the case for basic research at the nation’s colleges and universities, where, according to data from the National Science Foundation, federal funding decreased by 0.3 percent between FY 2011 and FY 2012.

More than half—50.8 percent—of the $31 billion in federal obligations for basic research was received, accounting for 11.4 percent of total R&D obligations in 2012.

That number, however, is expected to grow in FY 2013 and FY 2014, when funding is projected to increase by 11.8 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively.

The data shows that though federal obligations for all R&D (not just basic research) in 2013 and 2014 are set to decrease, due to a 1.2 percent drop in development, obligations to industry, federally funded research and development centers, nonprofits, state and local governments, and foreign entities will bump from $29.3 billion in FY 2011 to an estimated $32.5 billion in FY 2014. (Click here to download the data in spreadsheet format.)

Here’s how those FY 2012 spending figures break down:

  • Five federal departments and agencies provided $15.4 billion—98.3 percent—of all basic R&D obligations to universities and colleges. The Department of Health and Human Services ponied up the most—$9.2 billion or 58.6 percent—followed by NSF ($3.8 billion or 24 percent), the Department of Defense ($1.2 billion or 7.6 percent), the Department of Energy ($0.7 billion or 4.5 percent), and NASA ($0.6 billion or 3.7 percent).
  • Life sciences (56.9 percent of college and university obligations), physical sciences (11.2 percent), and engineering (9.6 percent) received 77.7 percent of the total federal research dollars. Spending in computer sciences and mathematics, life sciences, and other sciences not elsewhere classified decreased between FY 2011 and FY 2012.
  • Projected spending for all eight of the broad fields of sciences—which also include the environmental sciences, psychology, and social sciences—are expected to increase in FY 2014, with physical sciences earning the biggest piece ($156 million) of the spending pie.

Though the CBO is forecasting a narrower budget deficit in 2014 (the smallest since 2007), it’s not likely to impact President Obama’s proposed spending plan for 2015, which already included an increase in federal funds for R&D and STEM education.

We’ll keep you updated on developments (or the status quo) as they happen.

In the meantime, head on over here to read an excellent piece on the the continued case for basic research funding by Science/AAAS’s Jeffrey Mervis.