This report presents an overview of research and development (R&D) in science and engineering (S&E) fields performed at institutions of higher education in the United States, including historical trends and recent patterns. The report first examines the financing and performance of R&D at universities based on patterns in funding and spending, then discusses the physical infrastructure required to enable and sustain academic R&D. The final section addresses the human resources engaged in academic R&D, particularly the graduate students and postdoctoral researchers (postdocs) who perform academic R&D under the supervision of faculty and full-time research personnel.

The primary sources of data presented in this report are surveys conducted by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) at the National Science Foundation (NSF). International data come from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), with supplemental data from other statistical agencies and from peer-reviewed research articles. Financial data on academic R&D spending are drawn primarily from the NCSES Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey (2010 onward) and its predecessor, the Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges (1972–2009). The HERD Survey collects data on universities’ annual R&D spending; the sources of funds supporting that spending; and how the spending is distributed across types of R&D, fields of research, and institutions with specific features. HERD Survey data report spending based on the academic fiscal year from July through June. Throughout this report, data from the 2021 HERD Survey are expressed in current dollars, whereas constant dollars (inflation adjusted, with 2012 as the index year) are used to compare financial data over multiple years. To calculate academic R&D as a share of U.S. R&D performance, this report uses data reported in the NCSES data series National Patterns of R&D Resources (NCSES NP 2021). That data source follows different conventions for reporting financial data on academic R&D.

This is one of a series of reports that make up the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report of the National Science Board (NSB). Other reports in the Indicators series contain information relevant to S&E in higher education, including the forthcoming Indicators 2024 reports “Research and Development: U.S. Trends and International Comparisons,” “Higher Education in Science and Engineering,” “The STEM Labor Force of Today: Scientists, Engineers, and Skilled Technical Workers,” “Publications Output: U.S. Trends and International Comparisons,” and “Invention, Knowledge Transfer, and Innovation.”