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 ten campuses, five medical centers, three national energy laboratories and numerous specialized research facilities. It has established an unparalleled international reputation for innovative, leading-edge research. All domains of intellectual inquiry are represented in the research enterprise, from the structure of proteins in living cells to the formation of distant galaxies; from the development of more drought-resistant crop varieties to the study of new materials for the next generation of computer processors; from the documentation of indigenous cultures to the analysis of the global impacts of social media. The extraordinary diversity and quality of research at UC are 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).
Evaluating the research enterprise
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 activity and research results. This chapter focuses on quantitative measures of research activity and output, such as amounts received and spent, individuals employed, and books and journal articles published.
These measures, which are mostly fiscal, 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. However, as this chapter will show, some of the less tangible contributions that research makes to the quality of instruction at UC can be documented through surveys and employment data.
Sources of research funding
One widely used indicator of research activity is the total dollar amount expended each year for research. Although an incomplete measure, research expenditures do provide a basis for charting research trends over time, within disciplines and across the system. Expenditure data also allow comparisons to levels of research activity at other private and public institutions, and they point to UC's very substantial contribution to academic research and development efforts nationwide.
The expenditure data reveal that research activity at UC nearly doubled over the last 15 years, to more than $4.1 billion, and that most of this growth is fueled by federal funds. The University's own funds, from gifts, endowments, general funds and other internal sources, have consistently provided about 20 percent of the total. State and private sources of research funding also have increased. Notable research awards received during 2012-13 from private sponsors include a $31 million grant from the Simons Foundation to create the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at UC Berkeley; a $12 million contract with the Southern California Edison Co. to UC San Diego for a collaborative offshore geophysical survey; a $10 million grant from the American Association for Cancer Research to UC San Francisco for prostate cancer research; and a $5.8 million award from the Microelectronics Advanced Research Corporation to UCLA for nanomaterial engineering research. Although private support provides a critical and growing component of UC's research enterprise, it still accounts for only about 15 percent of the total. This leaves UC's research enterprise highly susceptible to fluctuations in federal budgetary appropriations for research and development.
Research funding pays for supplies, equipment, utilities and various services but, principally, it pays for people's time. More than half of the research expenditures in 2012-13 went to salaries and benefits. Of this portion, only 18 percent went to faculty; the majority was paid to staff researchers, and nearly one-quarter went to students and postdoctoral researchers.
Research results — enhancing instruction
One of the most important benefits of research at UC is the enhanced educational experience provided to students. Faculty research figures prominently in classroom instruction at all levels, and students' involvement in research forms an important and positive component of their UC educational experience. The 2012 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey found that 55 percent of seniors had been involved in research or other creative activities.
Participation in research is a critical element in graduate education, and graduate student researchers make up a significant portion of the research workforce. In FY 2012-13, of UC's 50,000 graduate students, more than 14,000 were employed at least part-time as paid research assistants. UC also provides postdoctoral training to more than 6,100 scholars, who make significant contributions to the research enterprise.
Research results — spurring the economy
The immediate economic benefit of UC's research enterprise to the state of California is significant, because the research activity itself brings money into the state, and this stimulates the economy when it is spent. A recent study of UC's economic impact determined that for every dollar spent by UC, the state's economy increases by $2.10. The $4.1 billion spent by UC on research multiplies to nearly $9 billion in statewide economic activity, adding jobs and promoting economic growth statewide.
Research frequently leads to innovative technologies and processes that can enhance industries, stimulate economies and even improve health and well-being worldwide. UC's technology transfer offices serve as a bridge between researchers and outside entities interested in developing and commercializing the results of academic research. Over the past two decades, UC has secured more licensable patents for its inventions than any other US research university. Since 1976, there have been more than 650 start-up companies founded around UC inventions, and 80 percent of them are based in California.
Research results — diffusing knowledge
Perhaps the most visible and widely distributed results of UC research take the form of publications: the myriad journal articles, books and other research reports available through an ever-growing repertoire of print and electronic media. In this chapter, we analyze the vast Web of Science publication database, with the understanding that these compilations are highly selective and significantly underrepresent faculty research contributions in the arts, social sciences and humanities.
Research results — improving global health
During 2012-13, more than 3,000 clinical trial research projects were under way at UC. Clinical trials occupy a unique position in the academic research enterprise. The great majority of projects involve basic, fundamental research aimed at increasing human knowledge and understanding, and some of these efforts may eventually lead to beneficial products or processes. Clinical trial research projects, by contrast, represent the final stage in the journey from a scientific discovery or innovation to an effective therapy or treatment that could significantly enhance global health.
More than 70 percent of UC's clinical trial projects were sponsored by businesses. And of all the research contracts and grants that came to UC from businesses during 2012-13, nearly half of the total dollar amount was directed toward clinical trials.
Research workforce changes
UC faces numerous challenges in pursuing its research mission, including the recruitment and retention of a world-class faculty; remaining competitive in attracting graduate academic and postdoctoral 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.
A critical issue facing the academic research enterprise nationwide is the ongoing reduction in federal support for academic research and development. Federal research awards to UC during 2012-13 fell to levels not seen since the early 2000s (after inflation adjustment). This decline was due in part to the federal sequester — the across-the-board spending cut in R&D appropriations that took effect in March 2013. The current federal budget reduces the impact of the sequester, but for most agencies, R&D support remains at low, pre-recessionary levels.
Also during 2012-13, UC spent the last of its billion-dollar-plus Recovery Act research funds. These one-time funds provided a temporary bump in research activity and employment that began to taper this past year. Graduate student researchers (GSRs) have already begun to feel the effects of declining federal research fund expenditures. Since 2010, when Recovery Act funds first became available for research, the number of GSRs employed by UC has declined from about 15,000 to 14,100, a drop of 6.5 percent. Declining federal research funds are responsible for more than half of this workforce reduction; the remainder is attributable to higher average annual compensation for GSRs, reflecting the overall higher net cost of graduate academic education.
This change in the GSR workforce is an early indicator of further changes to come. The effects of the sequester, combined with stagnant levels of federal research support, are likely to yield changes in UC's research workforce over the next few years, until federal budget priorities undergo a change.
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 the National Institutes of Health. Inevitably, there also will be an impact on the University's instructional mission, because research funding provides a major source of support for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in many fields.
To offset some part of these federal budgetary cutbacks, given the overall improvement in the U.S. economy, it is possible that private sources of research sponsorship will emerge. Toward this goal, campus-based and systemwide initiatives to develop new forms of partnership with potential corporate and non-profit research sponsors are already under way. 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.
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