Federal support for higher education R&D in the US lagged behind inflation for the third year in a row

American universities experienced a continuing decline in federal research and development funding in fiscal year (FY) 2014, according to new data from the US National Science Foundation (NSF). Federal R&D funding of higher education failed to outpace inflation for the third consecutive year in the US, says the agency’s 17 November analysis. When adjusted for inflation, the figure declined by 5.1% between fiscal years 2013 and 2014. The funding has fallen by more than 11% since its peak in FY 2011.

‘This is the longest multiyear decline in federal funding for academic R&D since the beginning of the annually collected data series in FY 1972,’ the NSF said. Overall, current dollar R&D expenditures reported by US universities were $67.3 billion (£44 billion) in FY 2014, a 0.2% increase from the previous year.

Higher education R&D is heavily concentrated in the fields of medical sciences, biological sciences, and engineering, and both experienced substantial growth between FYs 1994 and 2011. Specifically, biological sciences and engineering each more than doubled in constant dollars during that time, and medical sciences increased by more than 150%. However, the NSF found that R&D spending in the two life science fields has failed to outpace inflation each year, beginning in FY 2011. Meanwhile, engineering R&D growth has continued at a slower pace but showed its first year of no inflation-adjusted growth in FY 2014.