The biological and biomedical fields have done their part to accelerate the growth of research space in universities, but the overall increase is still less than the median growth.

Science and engineering (S&E) research space at the nation’s research-performing universities and colleges increased 3.5% between FYs 2009 and 2011, according to a recent report from the National Science Foundation (NSF). However, because of the downturned economy and looming budget cuts, the actual dollar amount spent on new construction was about $1 billion less than FYs 2008-2009. Additionally, the amount of planned new construction actually begun at academic institutions fell well short of total NASF (net assignable square feet) initially planned over the past decade. Fortunately, the gap appears to be shrinking. Institutions planned to start 10.3 million NASF in FYs 2010–2011, of which 78.6% were started during that time period (8.1 million NASF). In FYs 2004–2005, the equivalent percentage was 53.2%, followed by 64.2% in FYs 2006–2007 and 69.2% in FYs 2008–2009.

Total S&E research space grew from 196.1 million NASF to 202.9 million NASF during the last biennial period. However, the 3.5% increase is less than the median growth (4.7%) for the 11 biennial survey cycles from FY 1988 to FY 2011 (Figure 1). All institution types experienced net growth in research space except nondoctorate granting institutions, in which space declined 1.2%. 

Bio breakout

The biological and biomedical fields accounted for much of the growth in research space, increasing by 8.0% during the period. This follows a 12.3% increase for the fields from FYs 2007-2009. In 2011, the biological and biomedical sciences accounted for 26.8% of research space alone. 

Additionally, of the $3.5 billion academic institutions spent on major repairs and renovations for S&E research space, 37.5% of it went to improvements for biological and biomedical space.

Of course, numerous other fields shared a piece of the puzzle. The psychology (5.8%) and engineering (5.0%) fields gained research space, whereas NASF devoted to the agricultural and natural sciences declined 6.4%, even falling below 2007 levels. 

While overall physical science research space increased 3.9% from FY 2009-2011, all subfields are not created equal. For example, research space for astronomy, chemistry and physics increased 6.3%, but NASF for earth, atmospheric and ocean sciences declined 2.5%.

Budget problems

New construction of S&E research space begun in FYs 2010–11 declined by 18.2% from that begun in FYs 2008–09, and is 50% lower than NASF constructed in FYs 2002–03. Although no specific cause is attributed to the decline in this report, it can be surmised that the economy, continual budget cuts and the end of the R&D stimulus could have played a role. Even the hyperactive fields of biological and biomedical sciences noted a decline of 1.5 million NASF—from 3.5 to 2.0 million NASF in FYs 2010-2011—from the previous biennial cycle. As a result of the fields’ low numbers, the health and clinical sciences accounted for 2.8 million NASF in new construction. Another 1.3 million NASF for engineering research space projects was also reported. Combined, these three fields accounted for more than 75% of all new construction NASF. 

A total of $6.4 billion in new construction of S&E research space was reported in FYs 2010-2011—about $1 billion less than the estimated cost of new construction begun in FYs 2008-2009. Funding-wise, state and local governments provided 30.5%, or just under $2 billion. Almost 62% of the funding (nearly $4 billion) came from the institutions’ own funds and other sources. Another 7.6%, or $487 million, was provided by the federal government. In fact, it was the highest federal share since FYs 2004-2005. Of course, one cannot expect to see that again in FY2013 with the effects of the sequestration weighing heavily on academic research and federal funding capabilities. 

R2—repair and renovations

As mentioned earlier, space for the biological and biomedical fields consumed 37.5% of academic institutions’ $3.5 billion spent on major repairs and renovations (FYs 2010-2011). Other big spenders included: health and clinical sciences, 22.1%; engineering, 12.4%; and astronomy, chemistry and physics, 10.3%. 

For FYs 2012-2013, institutions expect to spend a similar $3.1 billion in repair and renovations. Nearly $1 billion of that will go to biological and biomedical space, with an additional $1 billion going toward improving health and clinical sciences space. In addition to these improvements, academic institutions reported another $4.8 billion in deferred repair and renovation projects included in their institutional plans, as well as $2.6 billion not included in the plans. The backlog of deferred improvements was greater than all projects started or planned for FYs 2010–2013 in most disciplines. The exceptions were biological and biomedical sciences, computer and information sciences and health and clinical sciences. However, it should be noted that this data were collected before sequestration cuts were announced. At this point, it is reasonable to assume some deferred projects—already on the backburner due to budgeting issues—will be relegated to that same position for the upcoming FY. 

All data were obtained from the NSF Survey of Science and Engineering Research Facilities, which collected data from 554 colleges and universities that expended at least $1 million in S&E research and development funds in FY 2010. The response rate for this survey was 97.7%. Additional detailed tables can be found at