The broad scope of UC research
The California Master Plan for Higher Education designates the University of California as the primary state-supported academic agency for research. UC research contributes to the state and to the nation through discoveries that improve health, technology, welfare and the quality of life.
UC has more than 800 research centers, institutes, laboratories and programs, and spans 10 campuses, five medical centers, a national energy laboratory and numerous specialized research facilities. It has established an unparalleled international reputation for innovative, leading-edge research. All academic disciplines are represented in the research enterprise, from telescopic explorations of the far reaches of the universe to advanced imaging technologies that map the workings of the human brain; from the development of new commercial strains of strawberries to the development of medical treatments through the use of stem cells; from the study of the art of ancient China to the analysis of the writings of Mark Twain. The extraordinary diversity and quality of research at UC is reflected in the uniformly high rankings assigned to UC campuses and programs by every published ranking of U.S. and worldwide universities (see Chapter 14).
Research enterprise metrics
UC's performance in meeting its research goals may be assessed in a variety of ways: the quantity of research that is conducted, as reflected in research expenditures; the academic quality and impact of UC's research; the enhancement of the educational experience of UC students; the contribution to the public of research findings; and the economic and societal benefits that flow directly and indirectly from research results. Measures of research quality and impact are notoriously difficult to generate, and there is little agreement on their validity or use. This chapter focuses on measures of research quantity, including research expenditures and journal publication. The emphasis on research finances demonstrates the increasing importance of research at UC, which now represents nearly one-fourth of the annual budget. However, these fiscal measures do not present a comprehensive account of UC's diverse research programs. They significantly underrepresent research in the arts, humanities, social sciences and theoretical scientific disciplines, because work in these fields leaves less of a direct fiscal footprint.
Looking forward – reduced federal support for research
UC faces numerous challenges in pursuing its research mission, including the recruitment and retention of a world-class faculty; remaining competitive in attracting graduate students who play a vital role in conducting research; and fully funding the research enterprise because the University does not recover the full costs of research from either governmental or private research sponsors.
The most immediate concern facing UC, together with every other research university in the United States, is the cutback in federal appropriations for academic research and development that begins with the 2013 federal fiscal year. The federal government has implemented a sequester, which is an across-the-board spending cut that will mean a reduction in UC's federal research support. The decline in federal research dollars from the sequester is reinforced by the final expenditures of Recovery Act funds, which provided a temporary bump in federal research funds that is reflected in UC's research expenditures from 2009-10 to the present.
The sequester cuts about $3.5 billion from federal academic research support nationwide, a reduction of about 7 percent. For UC, which received nearly $3 billion in federal research funds during 2011-12, this translates into a drop of about $200 million in federal research funding for the current (2012-13) fiscal year. Federal awards for other activities, such as training and service programs, will be reduced as well.
The impact of these reductions, though not yet reflected in the research expenditure figures for FY 2011-12, is already evident in the data on award funding. During the first two quarters of UC's 2012-13 fiscal year, new federal research awards fell by $224 million, to $1.3 billion, compared to $1.53 billion for the first two quarters of the previous year.
This shortfall in new research awards, during what is traditionally the largest award period of the year, is not expected to be made up in the final two quarters of the current fiscal year. Most federal agencies, anticipating the sequester and perhaps even greater long-term cutbacks in research appropriations, have altered their funding practices, beginning with the end of UC's previous fiscal year. Both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation — UC's two largest sources of research support — began issuing smaller awards, and funding projects for shorter durations. And with the start of the sequester, they now project issuing fewer awards as well.
One bright spot on the research-funding horizon is that contracts and grants from private and other non-federal sources are increasing with the recovering economy. However, they constitute but a small portion of the award total and cushion the impact of the federal fall-off only slightly.
Research workforce changes
Research award data serve as leading indicators of structural changes in the University's research enterprise and the composition of the research workforce. The decline in federal funding due to sequestration will mean decreased research expenditures during 2012-13 and beyond. And, as wages and benefits represent more than half of all research expenditures, some shrinkage of the research workforce is inescapable. Additional research personnel will also lose support when all Recovery Act research funding is spent, as it must be by September 2013.
The effect of these cutbacks on the research workforce will vary by campus and by discipline, with more of an impact on those fields, such as medical research, that depend heavily on project funding from NIH. Inevitably, there will also be an impact on the University's instructional mission, as research funding provides a major source of support for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers in many fields, and there is no clear source of alternative funding to compensate for the dramatic decline in federal support.
UC must prepare for the challenge of lower levels of federal support for research, which will mean a research workforce and a research enterprise smaller than it is today.
For more information
UC's Budget for Current Operations 2013-14 (pdf) contains information on the contributions and impacts of UC's research enterprise on the California economy.
The UCOP Office of Research and Graduate Studies website contains a number of resources about UC's research enterprise.
The UCOP Institutional Research Unit provides dashboards on key metrics.