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Carolina research exceeds $1 billion annually for first time

Fueled by more than $1 billion in annual research activity, Carolina ranks as one of the world’s top research universities

Old Well in the fall
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

UNC-Chapel Hill has surpassed, for the first time, $1 billion in annual research expenditures, according to the nation’s annual Higher Education Research and Development survey. This news continues Carolina’s decade-long rise as one of the world’s top universities for sponsored research.

The latest survey covers fiscal year 2016 and was released on Nov. 30. Carolina ranked 11th nationally among all research institutions in overall research and development expenditures, sixth nationally among public institutions, and sixth nationally in overall federal research and development.

“The sustained growth we have seen in our research enterprise since 2013 is a tribute to the excellence and dedication of the faculty, students and staff who are the heart of Carolina’s research and training programs,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “Thanks to their concerted and sustained work and their efforts to increase and strengthen outside partnerships, Carolina has become one of the nation’s most powerful economic engines, known for teams of researchers who take on the toughest, most complex challenges of our times. By building upon this foundation of excellence, nurturing the culture of collaboration and innovation that our researchers have created and investing in areas of opportunity and need, we can ensure research thrives here and amazing discoveries can move quickly to practical applications that benefit our state, nation and world.”

“This news further confirms what we all know — that UNC’s commitment to research continues to yield huge dividends for North Carolina,” said Vice Chancellor for Research Terry Magnuson.  “Our researchers save and improve lives in our state by discovering new treatments and cures for diseases and by making groundbreaking advances in both basic and applied science every year.” 

Research expenditures at UNC-Chapel Hill have more than doubled over the past decade, underscoring the confidence public and private sponsors place in science at Carolina. Since becoming one of the top 10 institutions for federal research expenditures in fiscal year 2010, the University has retained its position as the largest beneficiary in North Carolina of federal investments in research.

UNC-Chapel Hill expended $1,045,338,000 on research and development activity of all types in fiscal year 2016. Of that total, $632 million was sponsored by the federal government through agencies like the National Institutes for Health. The results strengthen the University’s reputation as a global leader in fields such as medicine, health and the physical and life sciences, as well as disciplines such as psychology and the social sciences.

“Roughly 90 percent of UNC’s research awards come from sources outside the state. They represent new dollars in North Carolina’s economy each year,” Magnuson said. “Much of this revenue comes from federal science agencies. State research universities like UNC represent an important way we bring federal tax dollars back to North Carolina and put them to work growing our economy.”

UNC-Chapel Hill’s research funding directly supports the salaries of more than 10,000 North Carolinians across the state, and has led to the start-up of more than 300 private businesses that employ an additional 8,000 workers across the state. The latest survey results show that industry funding for Carolina research jumped 16 percent from 2015 to 2016, reflecting the University’s expertise and attractiveness to commercial partners.

Research at Carolina also provides students with unique learning opportunities through hands-on research projects. Currently, more than 60 percent of UNC-Chapel Hill’s graduating seniors conduct independent research and contribute to discoveries made by our research scientists.

The National Science Foundation computes these national rankings annually as part of its HERD Survey, which evaluates hundreds of U.S. colleges and universities using a uniform methodology developed by the NSF to establish the amount of university spending on research and development. Federal research agencies, private industry, and foundations fund the vast majority of research spending.