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UW-Madison remains 8th in nation for research spending

University reported $1.38B in research expenditures during 2021 fiscal year

Bascom Hall on the UW-Madison campus
A student walks in front of Bascom Hall on the UW-Madison campus. Richard Hurd

The University of Wisconsin-Madison maintained its place among the top 10 universities in spending on research out of hundreds of universities during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest rankings from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

Wisconsin’s flagship university ranked eighth in the nation between July 2020 and June 2021. The university reported nearly $1.4 billion in annual research spending across all fields, a $16 million increase over the prior fiscal year.

The Higher Education Research and Development survey, or HERD, shows nearly $646 million in research spending from federal grants and awards and more than $412 million in spending from institutional funds.

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Steve Ackerman, UW-Madison’s vice chancellor for research and graduate education, said the rankings add a sense of pride among researchers across the university.

“There’s always that idea of how does our research make the world a better place, and in particular the state a better place?” Ackerman said. “And this HERD survey is one of the metrics that we look at now.”

The rankings are also important in terms of attracting top-tier faculty and researchers from around the world.

The latest numbers also reflect the first full year of data amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ackerman said that caused a major disruption in research activity when most students and staff were absent during the spring and summer of 2020.

UW-Madison was ranked fourth in the nation for research spending in 2014 but fell to sixth the following year. At the time, former Chancellor Rebecca Blank credited the drop to large cuts in state funding to the UW System.

In 2018, the university fell again to eighth in the nation and has stayed there ever since.

Ackerman said things are turning around. He said during the pandemic, many faculty members spent time away from the lab writing and submitting research grant applications.

“Now we’re looking at changing that trajectory,” Ackerman said. “We’ve been at eight now for two years and looking to catapult ourselves to number six in a short time frame.”

According to the university, the largest research expenditures during the 2021 fiscal year included $26.9 million for the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, $11.2 million for the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies program and $10.4 million for the campus’ Inner City Asthma Consortium.

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