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Useful Stats: HERD expenditures by R&D field and source of funds

December 14, 2023
By: Conor Gowder

Research and Development (R&D) is an essential component of innovation and economic growth, where higher education institutions play a key role. However, with these institutions being responsible for funding just a quarter of all HERD expenditures, it is important to see the influence of outside funding sources on the fields of R&D. For example, Health and Human Services (HHS) has long been the largest contributor of funding into higher education R&D, which is reflected in life sciences being the R&D field with the most significant funding levels.

This edition of Useful Stats uses higher education research and development (HERD) survey data at the R&D field level to explore where the nearly $100 billion in R&D expenditures is going.


HERD expenditures in science, engineering, and non-S&E by source of funds

Science and engineering (S&E) fields have historically accounted for most higher education R&D expenditures and continue to do so with a 94% share of HERD expenditures in FY 2022.

However, the proportion of science, engineering, and non-S&E fields differs depending on the source of funds; federally funded higher education R&D activities tend to be more in engineering fields and less in non-S&E fields, while nonfederally funded activities have a much higher proportion of non-S&E fields. The proportion of R&D expenditures in science is similar regardless of the source of funds. See Figure 1 for more details.

Figure 1: Higher education R&D expenditures by field and source of funds, FY 2022


HERD by R&D field and source of funds

Figure 2, below, further breaks down HERD expenditures by R&D field for the past ten fiscal years of available data, by year and source of funds. Click on science, engineering, or non-S&E to see more specific field information (e.g., within life science, there are the health sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, agricultural sciences, and not elsewhere classified). HERD expenditures in USD can be found for each field by hovering over the respective slice of the sunburst.


Figure 2: R&D field breakdown of FY 2013-2022 HERD expenditures by source of funds


Overall, life sciences had the most R&D expenditures in FY 2022, accounting for approximately 58% of all HERD ($56.5 billion) for the fiscal year. Within life sciences, health sciences and biological and biomedical sciences are responsible for $31.9 billion (33% of the total HERD value) and $18.2 billion (19% of the total HERD value), respectively.

After life sciences, the next largest R&D field by expenditures in FY 2022 is physical sciences, with approximately 6% of all HERD in FY 2022. In physical sciences, R&D expenditures in physics and chemistry each totaled over $2 billion.

The remaining 23 R&D fields captured by the HERD survey contain less than 4% of the total value each, with eight each under one percent.

By splitting HERD into federally and nonfederally financed, the differences become more apparent: both federally and nonfederally funded HERD expenditures are concentrated in life sciences in FY 2022, with 57% and 58% of their respective values, while the next largest R&D field by expenditures was physical sciences (8% of total) for federally funded and social sciences (5% of total) for nonfederally funded HERD.

Federally funded HERD contains four R&D fields at or above 5% of its total value and an additional 14 over 1%, with the remaining seven fields under 1%. Nonfederally funded HERD, on the other hand, has just two R&D fields with at least 5% of its total value and 19 above 1% (four fields under 1%).

Refer to Figure 2 or the HERD data release to learn more.

Click here to see more SSTI coverage of the FY 2022 HERD data release.

useful stats, higher ed, r&d