Making the Most of University R&D Spending

Increasingly, states are taking the lead in funding Research & Development in public universities, filling a gap left by federal inaction, contends Heike Mayer, an assistant professor of urban affairs at Virginia Tech, in a Times-Dispatch op-ed. Virginia supports R&D at its public universities, although the commitment trails that of many other states.

Quoting from a Pew Center study, “Investing In Innovation,” she notes that successful states follow some simple guidelines:

  • Embed investments in a 21st-century innovation strategy that moves beyond funding discrete programs to making a coordinated set of investments.
  • Find your strengths — and needs — and fund R&D in those areas.
  • Invest in collaboration. Encourage, or even mandate, that universities, industry, and government work together.
  • Enlist experts. Seek advice from industry, people outside your state, and even from abroad.
  • Be consistent, but not to a fault. Commit to a cycle of investment and assessment.
  • Measure the results of funding, so you can be sure public dollars are well spent.

It was a goal of the Warner administration to lift the rankings of Virginia’s major research universities — led by Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth — among the nation’s top research universities. You don’t hear much about that anymore. Probably because the Virginia rankings haven’t been climbing. Raising one’s standards in the R&D rankings isn’t easy when every other university in the country is trying to raise its rankings as well.

According to the latest National Science Foundation study, Virginia Tech, the Virginia state champ, ranked 56th in R&D spending in Fiscal 2005 with $290 million. That’s up from $167 million in 1998, an increase of about 73 percent. Impressive… but not as impressive enough to maintain its standing.

The University of Virginia fell to a 69th place ranking, with $239 million in R&D. VCU hung in the top 100 with a 99th place ranking.

I can’t find the documentation online, but as memory serves me, Virginia Tech stood as high as 49 or 50 in recent years, and UVa within the top 60. Do any readers know the numbers?

Overall, Virginia universities conducted $914 million in R&D in Fiscal 2005, according to the NSF. We trailed:

California ($6.3 billion)
New York ($3.6 billion)
Texas ($3.1 billion)
Maryland ($2.6 billion)
Pennsylvania ($2.4 billion)
Massachusetts ($2.1 billion)
Illinois ($1.8 billion)
North Carolina ($1.7 billion)
Florida ($1.5 billion)
Ohio ($1.5 billion)
Michigan ($1.5 billion)
Georgia ($1.3 billion)
Wisconsin ($1 billion)

Missouri was nipping on our heels.

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8 responses to “Making the Most of University R&D Spending”

  1. Groveton Avatar


    I am afraid that the Virginia university system is becoming a “legend in its own mind”.

    Virginia has 3 population / economic centers:

    1. Northern Virginia
    2. Richmond
    3. Tidewater

    Meanwhile, Virginia’s top 3 universities are located in:

    1. Charlottesville
    2. Williamsburg
    3. Blacksburg

    In addition, none of Virginia’s “Big 3” universities have a serious program to serve any of the 3 major population centers. Quite the opposite – the “Big 3” and their cronies in the General Assembly have worked tirelessly against the universities that are located in the population centers. The General Assembly’s efforts to put a cap on George Mason are disgraceful.

    The states listed in the Top 10 for R&D have put great emphasis on public – private partnerships. They aggressively solicit research money and have a presence in the major population centers within their state.

    Take Illinois. They have a major campus in Urbana – Champaign. However, they also have very large campuses in Chicago and Springfield. The people of Illinois would never tolerate a major public university that ignored the popullation and business center in Chicago. Now take the University of Virginia (my alma mater). UVA has stubbornly refused to have any meaningful operations in Northern Virginia. In fact, I recently had lunch with a UVA professors who was looking for some research funding. He came to the lunch under orders from his boss and under apparent duress.

    I asked him why UVA provided no effective support to Northern Virginia despite the fact that Northern Virginia is obviously a population and economic center in the state.

    He said something about the students at UVA needing to “see the Rotunda” in order to get a real UVA education.

    I passed on the funding request.

    I also refuse to contribute any money to UVA. I’ll give to George Mason and Christopher Newport but I won’t send a dime to UVA.

    Frankly, I don’t think anyone else in Northern Virginia ought to send any money to UVA either.

    BTW – Maryland as #4? That alone should be enough to get the administrations at Tech and UVA fired.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Groveton, Maryland owes its No. 4 rank largely to Johns Hopkins, a private institution and the largest academic R&D center in the country, conducting more than $1 billion in research.

  3. A few facts…

    GMU was a branch campus of UVA.

    Alan Merten, pres of GMU, lead the fight to Warner who then lead the fight against the big three having major operations in NoVA.

    The fight was successful…further operations were curtailed.

    Bob Templin, pres of NVCC, and Belle Wheelen, SOE and former pres of NVCC, contributed support to keep the big three from expanding to NOVA.

    In any event, the geographic locations of the 3 and the connection to successful R&D centers has been raised at SCHEV and elsewhere…unfortunately, few have been willing to tackle the issue that way.

    As to capping GMU, the only efforts at “capping” GMU were on its tuition after the 25% increase it imposed in 2002. GMU has grown year after, often in excess of its enrollment targets and projections. What it has not done is increased its graduation rate to match. A rate that is currently not much more than half of UVA’s….so more students don’t graduate while the university claims that it is in part due to its inability to offer enough classes on schedule. If that’s true, the answer is to enroll fewer students instead of more that you can’t serve.

    GMU has a fantastic marketing machine in NoVA…unfortunately, the verifiable facts it provides the Richmond community don’t match the marketing.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Now there there are some fascinating perspectives on the same situation.

    I have no knowledge on how to comment.


  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Josh makes a good point. Every big university in the Commonwealth wants a piece of the Northern Virginia market. Virginia Tech and UVa have been trying to penetrate the market for years. But GMU has regarded NoVa as its market and used all the influence at its disposal to limit their presence. I can understand GMU’s motivations — it wants to maximize its institutional potential, even if it comes at the expense of the Northern Virginia community. The fact is, with significantly larger endowments and larger, more prestigious R&D programs, UVa and Virginia could have a lot to offer NoVa.

    Groveton, if you refuse to contribute to UVa, that’s your business. But do so for the right reasons, not because one professor, who’s probably not in a position to know much at all, makes one snooty remark.

  6. Groveton Avatar

    Josh and Jim:

    I am sorry but I just don’t buy your arguments.

    On the Johns Hopkins issue – JHU is a great university, very well run. It was founded in 1876, has an endowment of about $2.165B and 6,000 total students. The University of Virginia was founded in 1819, has an endowment of $4.3B and approximately 20,000 students. So, tell me again, why is JHU such an R&D heavyweight while UVA is a relative lightweight. Oh, and I almost forgot – JHU operates 5 campuses including one in Washington, DC.

    George Mason was part of the University of Virginia – until April 7, 1972. 1972! C’mon guys, that was 35 years ago.

    The University of Virginia operates a small Northern Virginia campus. They have waffled over the years as to whether that campus would be degree granting or not. My understanding is that it is not degree granting anymore. I know that the brain trust in Charlottesville recinded the Northern Virginia campus’ right to grant degrees in Systems Engineering. If UVA really wants a “piece of the NOVA market” they should be granting degrees here. Universities like George Washington seem to have no problem establishing real campuses in NOVA. However, this has proven to be beyond UVA’s managerial capability. If UVA or Tech really wanted to “penetrate the market” they could have done so long ago. In my opinion, the management of UVA has a completely “Charlottesville-centric” view of the world. This view hurts UVA, its students and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

    The Commonwealth had a great opportunity to do the righ thing in 1984 when it funded the Center for Innovative Technology. This research-oriented organization is housed in a lopsided building near Dulles Airport. It should be on George Mason’s campus. This is what GMU wanted, this would have made the most sense in generating R&D funds but it was opposed by …. the other universities in the system.

    The other universities tried (and failed) to stop the establishment of the George Mason School of Law. Heaven forbid that a Virginia university have a law school near Washington, DC – where the Federal laws are written, interpreted and (sometimes) enforced.

    As for George Mason marketing – they are terrible at marketing. GMU is the largest university in Virginia and nobody outside of NOVA knows who they are. The 2006 NCAA Men’s basketball success did more for GMU name recognition than all of their marketing efforts added together.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Groveton, you may be right about UVa and NoVa. I certainly don’t have any inside knowledge. If I had the resources, I’d assign a reporter to dig into the issue and really find out. Maybe one of the daily newspapers will take a look one day.

  8. Groveton, you are just plain wrong on some of these things. Folks do know who GMU is outside of NoVA…but not as many as might. However, once again, that may have something to do with GMU’s quality, or lack thereof. Mason graduates 56% of its first-time full-time freshmen in six years, compared to UVa’s 92% (which is really in five years). Student outcomes are key to success across all programs and levels…GMU simply does not have it yet. GMU is the largest, but not the most successful.

    Success attracts success.

    John Hopkins is successful because of its location…main campus…not because of its branch campuses. It has an 88% graduation rate. It also started earlier than at seeking federally funded grants than the Va institutons.

    My point regarding GMU’s marketing is about the cohort of true believers (like yourself) it has created in NoVa. There is the myth that GMU is poor, mistreated university that does not get its fair share of respect etc. It is large, moderately decent public university…it is not a major research institution and it has been primarily successful in recruiting students because it is in a major growth area.

    As for an inside source, I am one….I was in the room several times when Warner complained to SCHEV and others about seeing bilboards in NoVa advertising UVA, VT, and CWM right in the backyard of GMU.

    Ask administrators and legislative liaisons from the other institutions about how they feel about how GMU’s administration runs roughshod over anyone they can.

    GMU has created much of the problem you are complaining about…not all, but much.

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