UW retains top 10 national research ranking, increases research expenditures

Lake Mendota and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, including Bascom Hill and Bascom Hall, are pictured in an early morning aerial taken from a helicopter on Oct. 23, 2018. Bryce Richter/UW-Madison

The National Science Foundation has released its 2020 fiscal year Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) data and the University of Wisconsin–Madison has again ranked 8th in the national research rankings for public and private universities. UW–Madison ranked 8th in the last survey covering the 2019 fiscal year.

Data on UW–Madison’s 2020 research expenditures show that between July 2019 and the end of June 2020, the university increased its annual expenditures over the previous year, reporting over $1.3 billion in annual expenditures for research across all fields, about half of which comes from federal awards. That is an increase of nearly $67 million from fiscal year 2019.

The HERD survey is the primary source of information on research and development expenditures at American universities and colleges. Tabulating expenditures is one way to measure academic research activity. The survey collects information on expenditures by field of research and source of funds and also gathers information on types of research expenses and number of research and development personnel.

The survey is an annual census of institutions that spent at least $150,000 on separately budgeted research and development during the fiscal year. In fiscal year 2020, more than 910 universities responded to the survey.

“UW–Madison continues to be an innovation leader, as evidenced by our investment in launching new research initiatives to seed projects so they are more competitive for extramural funding,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education, of the latest HERD rankings. “Our faculty, staff and students continue to perform research and demonstrate their innovation on the national and international stage.”

Here are some examples:

  • UW–Madison professors Thomas R. “Rock” Mackie and Bulent Sarlioglu were recently named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors. The NAI program recognizes innovative and productive academic inventors who “have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.” The university now has 12 fellows.
  • Amy Weeks, a UW–Madison professor of biochemistry, was recently selected as a Packard Fellow for Science and Engineering, awarded annually to early-career scientists from across the United States. She was one of 20 members chosen for the honor in 2021.
  • In November, a major UW–Madison research project celebrated an important anniversary: The Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention study turned 20 years old. With 1,700 research participants, WRAP is now the largest and among the longest-running family history studies of Alzheimer’s disease in the world.
  • A student-led team from UW–Madison was recently named one of the top winners in the $5 million XPRIZE for Carbon Removal Student Competition. The contest is kickstarting projects that could mitigate the impacts of climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air, ground and oceans.
  • To date, UW–Madison researchers have been awarded more than 80 research grants related to COVID-19, totaling more than $91 million.

“I’m especially proud that our campus research community provides a backbone to the Wisconsin Idea in areas such as timely and critical public health response,” says Ackerman. “We see this in the university’s research response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also in our efforts to ensure significant continuing advances in STEM, the arts, education and the social sciences.”

Funding for academic research at UW–Madison comes primarily from the federal government as well as institutional funds. Additional sources include state and local government, industry, nonprofit organizations and foundations that support the university. The two most significant private contributors of research support to UW–Madison are the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and UW Foundation.

Earlier this year, WARF announced a total of $216.8 million in support for UW–Madison’s research enterprise during the 2021-22 academic year. It marks WARF’s largest annual investment in UW–Madison-based research and education in the foundation’s history.

Although the HERD survey tracks expenditures, UW–Madison has also recently received other prestigious ratings that are leading indicators of its research and scholarly success:

  • UW–Madison graduate programs were again ranked among the nation’s best in the 2021 U.S. News & World Report “Best Graduate Schools.” The School of Education ranked 4th nationwide — tied for first among public universities — and the School of Pharmacy ranked 7th. Two programs in the School of Education were ranked first nationwide: printmaking, and curriculum and instruction.
  • U.S. News & World Report also ranked UW–Madison 52nd in its 2022 Best Global Universities Rankings and, in a separate ranking issued in September, named UW–Madison 14th among all public institutions in the U.S. and 42nd among all colleges.
  • UW–Madison is 4th among all U.S. universities for study abroad participation and 19th for its number of international students, according to the 2021 Open Doors Report.
  • UW–Madison was again recently recognized as one of the world’s top learning institutions, placing 35th in the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings.
  • Facilities improvements are reflected in UW–Madison’s placement in the top five on the biannual Survey of Science and Engineering Research Facilities conducted by the National Science Foundation.

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Students walk down the sidewalk of Bascom Hill during spring at the University of Wisconsin-Madison