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The Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine on Nov. 13, 2021. Credit: Riley Guggenhime

Penn ranked fourth among United States universities for research and development spending in the fiscal year of 2021, according to data released by the National Science Foundation last year.

The report, which the NSF releases annually, shows that Penn ranked behind Johns Hopkins University, the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Penn is also ranked first among the Ivy League, spending over $1.6 billion on research in 2021 — a record high for Penn. Research expenditures increased by approximately $52.5 million compared to the previous year.

Since 2016, Penn has consistently placed among the top four highest-spending universities out of a list of over 900 research institutions nationwide. According to Penn's website, research and development expenditures are used to maintain the university’s 182 research centers and institutes and its over-5,000 research faculty members. 

Penn receives around $800 million from the federal government, making it the university’s largest source of funding for research expenditures. Funding from the federal government comes from sources such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Defense.

78% of Penn’s research expenditures went to the life sciences, which include biology and medicine. The university spent over $1.2 billion on research in this field. Slightly more than half of Penn's life science expenditures were federally funded, and a majority of life science research expenditures supported work done in the biological and biomedical sciences and the health sciences. 

The university’s life science research expenditures supported initiatives such as the Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Response and over 2,000 clinical research studies conducted by the Perelman School of Medicine in the fiscal year of 2021, according to a 2022 brochure issued by the medical school. 

College senior Hiba Hamid, who engages in neurosurgery research, said that her research is adequately funded and supported. 

“All the resources were already there, and I just had to use them,” she said.

J. Larry Jameson, dean of Perelman School of Medicine, wrote to the Daily Pennsylvanian in a statement that Perelman was proud of its level of research expenditures.

“We are proud to be among the nation’s top recipients of federal research funding for basic, translational, and clinical science, and our faculty and their teams are dedicated to continuing Penn’s legacy of discovery and innovation to improve the health of individuals and communities worldwide," Jameson wrote. 

Penn also ranked first out of all U.S. universities for research expenditures in business management and business administration, with over $80 million spent on this field. Penn's business research expenditures fund Wharton’s 20 research centers and initiatives and over 240 faculty members in the business school. 

“Part of our academic mission is to create new knowledge in all of our scholarship, whether it's in finance in Wharton or communication in Annenberg,”  Senior Vice Provost for Research Dawn Bonnell told the DP.

In contrast, Penn listed no research expenditures in the field of social work, and they spent approximately $1.3 million on research in anthropology — the category in which Penn allocated the least amount of its total social science research expenditures. However, Penn’s anthropology spending is ranked 19th among all universities and ranked third among the Ivy League, behind Harvard University and Princeton University.

Dr. Kathy Morrison, chair of the Anthropology Department, said that the DP’s findings were “not terribly surprising.” 

“Unfortunately, I think anthropologists have always known that the other social sciences are more robustly funded,” she said. 

According to College junior Vernon Wells, this comparatively smaller amount of spending has made it difficult for undergraduates interested in anthropological fields to secure research funding.

Wells, who traveled to the Philippines to work on their anthropology thesis, said that there is a lack of funds for undergraduate students to pull from when it comes to anthropology research. When trying to secure funding for his research, Wells said there “wasn’t very much available” from the anthropology department last fall, as the department distributed most of its funds earlier in the year.

“As someone who’s definitely interested in academia, it’s [difficult] to know that it’s not easy to access the resources you need to go further,” Wells said.

Despite smaller research expenditures going to anthropology, Morrison feels supported by the university and notes that federal funding sources, such as the NSF, allocate relatively small amounts of money to the field. 

“I can't really say anything but good things about Penn in terms of the way that they have supported anthropology, and I hope they will continue to support [it],” she said.

Penn and most other Ivies saw increases in total research expenditures from 2010 to 2021, with the exception of Brown University. This trend also holds for other universities, with the total research expenditures for all universities surveyed by the NSF increasing by slightly under $30 billion from 2010 to 2021. 

“The money is an indicator [of success], but it’s really the people on the research that are the important outcome, particularly for the faculty, students, and postdocs who are all doing all this work and learning from doing this work,” Bonnell said. “But the fact that we do have the mechanisms to get [the research] out to people enables Penn to do good for society.”