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Leading Research Universities Report, December 11, 2023

3 blocks that say R & DAAU Members Lead Nation’s Universities in R&D Spending

AAU members are the biggest investors in research and development among all colleges and universities in the United States, according to a report released last month by the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Nine of the 10 universities with the highest R&D spending, per the FY22 Higher Education Research and Development survey, are AAU institutions. Johns Hopkins University was the number-one spender, with $3.42 billion in R&D expenditures; the University of Pennsylvania was third, with $1.79 billion in spending; and the University of Michigan was close behind, with $1.77 billion in spending.

According to the NSF, academic institutions spent a total of $97.8 billion on R&D in FY22, an increase of $8 billion from FY21. Federal funding accounted for 55% of total expenditures, while funds from the universities themselves accounted for another 25%.

Digital illustration of a honeycomb pattern with STEM related symbolsNew Report on State of Science in America Notes Decline in Federal Research Investments

The Science and Technology Action Committee, “a group of 25 non-profit, academic, foundation, and­ corporate leaders working to dramatically strengthen U.S. science and technology,” has released a new report on the state of science in America. The report finds that, while “federal investment in science and technology has long ensured our national security, improved our health and well-being, and grown our economy,” that investment has “dropped down the list of the national priorities over the past several decades.” The report notes that “government funding for research and development sits at just 0.7% of our GDP compared to our historical peak of 1.9% in 1964, and contrasts sharply with increases by our competitors, notably China.”

The report features expert insights as well as results from a survey “to highlight the widespread view across political identifications and sectors that America is falling behind – and the steps we must take to regain our preeminence.” The report calls on policymakers to create a national strategy for advancing science and technology; to increase funding for science and technology to at least 1.4% of the GDP in the next five years; to cultivate a diverse STEM workforce; to boost STEM education; to foster additional coordination among federal science agencies; and to partner with other nations to ensure that the United States remains the global leader in science and innovation.

The report reaffirms the message behind AAU’s Fund American Science campaign that lack of U.S. investment in science is causing our country to fall behind its global competitors. America became the world’s scientific, economic, and military leader in the 20th century by making bold and sustained investments in scientific research – and we must renew that commitment to continue leading by funding the CHIPS and Science Act.

ICYMI: Making America Competitive Again

New Report Offers Guidance to Public Research Universities on Modernizing Scholarship for the Public Good

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities recently issued a report that offers guidance to public research universities on how “they can support scholars and advance public impact research, Cooperative Extension, civic science, community-engaged research, and other forms of public engagement.” AAU Deputy Vice President for Institutional Policy Emily Miller contributed to this report, which is titled “Modernizing Scholarship for the Public Good: An Action Framework for Public Research Universities.”

The report notes that public research universities, which were founded “to serve the public through their education, research, and engagement work,” are increasingly being called upon to tackle the many “multifaceted and complex” challenges facing their communities. The report recommends eight strategic actions that institutions can take to “incentivize, recognize, and promote publicly engaged scholarship.” These include developing committed institutional leaders; reforming appointment, retention, tenure, and promotion practices; and launching and maintaining catalytic funding programs. The report includes detailed case studies as well as examples of existing university initiatives that illustrate the areas of strategic action.

Golden Goose Award LogoDeadline Approaching: Submit Nominations Now for the 2024 Golden Goose Award

The deadline for submitting nominations for the 2024 Golden Goose Award is fast approaching. The Golden Goose Award honors federally funded researchers whose work may sound silly, odd, obscure, wasteful of taxpayer funding, or serendipitous, but which has had a major positive impact on society. Learn more about the previous awardees here. For more information about the Golden Goose Award, please visit:

Nominations for the Golden Goose Award are accepted on a rolling basis, but submissions received through December 15 will have the best chance of being considered for the 2024 award. Nominations submitted after that date will be considered for an award in future years. For helpful tips on how to submit nominations, watch this webinar or access this toolkit.

News of Interest

National Catholic Register: Notre Dame Board Elects Father Robert Dowd as New University President – The board of trustees of the University of Notre Dame announced last week that it has selected Rev. Robert A. Dowd as the university’s next president. Father Dowd will replace Rev. John Jenkins, who is stepping down as president at the end of the 2023-24 academic year after 19 years in the role.

The Chronicle of Higher Education: In 5-Hour Hearing, Republican Lawmakers Chastise College Leaders for Campus Antisemitism – Last week, Harvard University President Claudine Gay, Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth, and University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill testified at a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on confronting antisemitism. The presidents were asked a series of questions regarding protests on college campuses and about whether hate speech against Jews was permitted at their universities. The presidents rebutted many of the accusations made against them and “pointed to increased security on campuses and new antisemitism committees, as well as other ways to foster dialogue.” They also defended their universities’ commitment to free speech and academic freedom.

The Christian Science Monitor: MIT via Community College? Transfer Students Find a New Path to a Degree. – The Transfer Scholars Network helps high-performing community college students earn bachelor’s degrees by connecting them with top four-year universities. Once students are accepted by the schools, “they receive financial aid packages that fill 100% of their need via grants, scholarships, and minimal loans.” Currently, 16 four-year universities, including seven AAU members, participate in the network.

Science: NIH’s New Chief, Monica Bertagnolli, Wants Greater ‘Equity’ in Biomedical Research – In a press conference, the new National Institutes of Health director Monica Bertagnolli said that “her highest priority is making NIH-funded clinical research more inclusive and more accessible to the public.” She also talked about ensuring that research results are quickly translated into applications that “improve the circumstances of real people.”

The News & Observer: Duke Gets Its Largest Donation Ever. How It Will Help Students, Including HBCU Grads – Duke University recently received a $100 million donation from the Duke Endowment, “a philanthropic foundation separate from the university.” The funding will support “in part, the university’s initiative to offer free tuition to students from North Carolina and South Carolina whose families have annual incomes of $150,000 or less” as well as financial aid to graduates of historically Black colleges and universities or other minority-serving institutions pursuing graduate and professional degrees at Duke.

CityNews: University of Toronto Named World’s Most Sustainable University – The University of Toronto was recently ranked as “the most sustainable university in the world” by QS World University Rankings. The rankings evaluate “how post-secondary institutions tackle the world’s most prominent environmental, social, and governance challenges.” The University of California, Berkeley, ranked second on the list.

Featured Research

Image of a hand holding gold nuggets

Detoxifying Gold Mining

A team of researchers from Michigan State University is working to reduce mercury emissions caused by artisanal and small-scale gold mining, which accounts “for almost 40% of the global emissions of mercury.” The researchers worked with miners in Senegal to develop a two-pronged approach to reduce emissions – educating the miners on the dangers of mercury and helping them build devices that burn mercury without releasing its vapors into the atmosphere. The researchers believe their “approach could be extended to mining operations in other countries to further curb emissions.”

Image of a flat bed truck transporting produce

Smart Packaging of the Future?

Currently, “about one-third of food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted.” Now researchers at Case Western Reserve University are developing a “smart packaging” system that can significantly help reduce food waste by providing “food producers and transport staff” with real-time, digital data “about temperature, moisture, and spoilage conditions” of perishable food products during transportation.

From Our Feeds


Screenshot os a tweet by the University of Arizona

AAU’s new “Immigrant Spotlight” series highlights the incredible contributions of immigrant researchers at U.S. universities. Our next article in the series features Mohab Ibrahim, a distinguished physician-scientist at the University of Arizona. A childhood experience in Kuwait fueled Ibrahim’s determination to better understand and manage pain and shaped his subsequent journey from Egypt to the United States, where he has dedicated his career to chronic pain research and treatment. Read more about Ibrahim’s work and his journey on the AAU website.