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Research Institutions Received over $2.3 Billion in Private Funding for Basic Science in 2016 [Alliance press release]

Research Institutions Received Over $2.3 Billion in Private Funding for Basic Science in 2016

Palo Alto, CA (February 13, 2017) – Research institutions in the U.S. received more than $2.3 billion for basic science research in 2016 from foundations, philanthropists, corporations, and charities, according to the “Private Funding of Basic Science” survey conducted by the Science Philanthropy Alliance. Basic science research, which answers the most fundamental questions we have about the world, can lead to wide-ranging applications and tremendous benefits and value.

The federal government is the biggest source of funding for basic science; in 2015, the federal government provided $38 billion in funding for higher education research and development (R&D), according to the National Science Foundation. However, federal funding for R&D has declined by 13% since 2011.

Private funding for basic science research is also a fraction of total private funding to higher education institutions, which totaled $41 billion in 2016, according to the Voluntary Support for Education (VSE) survey conducted by the Council for Aid to Education.

“While philanthropists and private sources cannot fill the gap that the government is leaving, they are uniquely suited to make an impact on basic research,” said Marc Kastner, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance. “They have the ability to support endeavors which the government may be hesitant to start, they can be more nimble and innovative, and they can support the collaboration of many different types of scientists.”

Basic research in the life sciences received the lion’s share of funding

The survey also indicated that life sciences continued to attract the most private funding. 84% of the $2.3 billion, or $1.9 billion, went to life sciences basic research, while 13%, or $292 million, went to the physical sciences. 3%, or $80 million, went to mathematics.

A 30% increase in funding for institutions that participated in 2015 and 2016 surveys

This is the second year that the Alliance has conducted the survey. The 2015 survey, in which 27 institutions participated (compared with 42 participants in the 2016 survey), indicated that more than $1.2 billion in private funding went to basic science. A review of just the 26 institutions which participated in both the 2015 and 2016 surveys indicated an increase in private funding of basic science research by 31%, from $1.19 billion in 2015 to $1.56 billion in 2016.

“We are encouraged that many research institutions are reporting an increase in private funding of basic science, which can impact our future in ways we cannot imagine today,” said Kastner. “We are grateful to the generous philanthropists and organizations who are making this essential work possible.”

“We are also grateful to the universities and research institutions who participated in the survey. Given the years-long decline in federal funding, it is important to measure private funding for basic science research. Many institutions that have not tracked private funding for basic science in the past have made a significant effort to begin to do so, and we hope to further increase participation in our survey next year,” continued Kastner.

About the survey

This annual survey was created with the goal of establishing a benchmark in private giving to the basic sciences at major research institutions. The survey was developed by the Science Philanthropy Alliance and hosted by the Council for Aid to Education adjacent to its annual VSE Survey. View the survey summary report here.

Forty-two universities and research institutions responded to the 2016 survey, out of a total of 62 members of the Association of American Universities (AAU) and 18 Association of Independent Research Institutes (AIRI) members that were invited to participate. With 53% of the AAU members and 44% of AIRI members participating, it is likely the actual funding level for basic science across all major research institutions in the U.S. is substantially higher. The sources of giving measured in the survey were individuals, foundations, corporations, and “other” sources such as civic organizations and other charities.

Twenty-seven universities and research institutions participated In the 2015 survey, out of the 63 that were invited.

About the Science Philanthropy Alliance

The Science Philanthropy Alliance, founded in 2012, is a group of organizations working together to increase philanthropic support for basic scientific research on a global basis. To help philanthropists and foundations support basic research most effectively, the Alliance provides advice and information to philanthropists and foundations on basic science philanthropy, connects them to scientists and experienced philanthropists, and convenes events to facilitate sharing of best practices.

Contact: Ruby Barcklay, 510 612 5180, rbarcklay@sciphil.org