Federal science and engineering funding for academic institutions sees first increase in five years

national science foundation
Federal academic S&E obligations include six categories, five of which saw increases.

Federal agencies obligated $30.8 billion to 996 academic institutions for science and engineering (S&E) activities in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, the most recent year for which such information is available, a 6 percent increase over the previous year and the first increase in such funding since FY2009.

In current dollars, federal S&E obligations to academic institutions fell by $1.8 billion between FY2012 and FY2013, then increased by $1.7 billion between FY2013 and FY2014, according to a new report from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). During that period of rising funds, the number of academic institutions receiving funding climbed by one.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Defense (DOD) together provided 85 percent of all federal academic S&E obligations. HHS accounted for 57 percent; NSF 16 percent; and DOD 12 percent. Most of the remaining funding came from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy and NASA. All six of these agencies saw their obligations increase between FY2013 and FY2014.

The Johns Hopkins University, including its Applied Physics Laboratory, continued to receive the most funds out of any academic university, receiving $1.7 billion in FY2014. For a full list of the top 20 recipient universities, see the full NCSES InfoBrief.

Federal academic S&E obligations include six categories:

  • Research and development (R&D) — all direct, indirect, incidental or related costs corresponding to R&D performed under grant, contract or cooperative agreement. This category increased by $1.5 billion.
  • R&D plant — all projects whose principal purpose is to support the construction, acquisition, renovation, modification, repair or rental of R&D facilities, land or fixed equipment. This category increased by $89 million.
  • Facilities and equipment for instruction in S&E — all programs whose principal purpose is to support the construction, acquisition, renovation, modification, repair or rental facilities, land and equipment used for S&E instruction. This category increased by $7 million.
  • Fellowships, traineeships and training grants — all programs directed primarily toward the development and maintenance of the scientific workforce. This category increased $444 million.
  • General support for S&E — funds for scientific projects and support activities within a specified discipline. This category increased by $5 million.
  • Other S&E activities — all academic obligations that cannot be assigned elsewhere, and activities in support of technical conferences, teacher institutions and programs aimed at increasing pre-college and undergraduate students’ scientific knowledge. This category increased by $334 million.

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.