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Nov 26, 201809:29 PMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

Wisconsin R&D figures reflect strengths — and some challenges

(page 1 of 2)

The annual report by the National Science Foundation on research and development spending by U.S. colleges and universities confirmed what many people already know: The UW–Madison is a powerhouse when it comes to attracting R&D dollars.

What’s less known without a deeper dive in the NSF’s Higher Education Research and Development survey is UW–Madison isn’t alone in Wisconsin when it comes to R&D activity.

The state’s flagship campus ranked sixth in the United States with $1.194 billion in total R&D dollars raised and spent in 2017, according to the NSF, with about half of that amount — $570.8 million — coming from federal sources. The rest came from other institutions, such as the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the UW Foundation, businesses, and other private sources.

Other than second-place Michigan ($1.530 billion), UW–Madison topped all other Big Ten Conference schools in the survey, which ranked 644 colleges and universities nationwide. Other Big Ten schools ranged from 17th to 77th on that list.

Academic R&D in Wisconsin totaled a little more than $1.5 billion, largely on the strength of three institutions — the Medical College of Wisconsin, UW–Milwaukee, and Marquette University — that have seen their research activities grow significantly in recent years.

Ranked just outside the top 100 at No. 105, MCW reported $209.6 million in research, up from $165 million 10 years ago. The UW–Milwaukee (No. 192) showed $54.2 million in research, the result of greater emphasis on R&D work by a succession of chancellors spanning about 20 years. Marquette University (No. 219) reported $30 million in research, triple what was raised and spent in 2008.

That means at least $294 million in research is clustered in the Milwaukee region, where the effort is beginning to pay off in the form of young startups and more innovation by major firms.

The NSF reported the rest of the UW System, primarily campuses in La Crosse, Stevens Point, Eau Claire, Oshkosh, Green Bay, River Falls, and Platteville, raised and spent about $15 million. Those campuses don’t have doctoral degree programs, which partly explains the modest total, but another factor is that most researchers on those campuses also have heavy teaching loads. It’s hard to be two places at once.

A breakdown of the UW–Madison’s R&D total speaks to challenges the campus must confront as it strives to remain one the nation’s most diverse research universities.

The good news was that more R&D dollars were raised through business-related research (up 7.3 percent), nonprofit groups such as health-related causes (8.8 percent), and institutional funds (9.1 percent). The “old” news was that federal R&D spending remained flat, the result of reductions that have spanned much of the 2000s. The bad news was the decline in state and local government funding, which fell 11.3 percent. Without consistent state support for basic research, it is difficult to attract funding for the kind of applied research that creates companies and jobs.


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About This Blog

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.



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