28 April 2017

US funding landscape and opportunities


The United States (US) is the largest investor in research and innovation in the world. As such, it maintains world-leading universities, researchers and facilities through an extensive network of federal funders, state funders, industry, foundations and university endowments. The Research Office presents a broad outline of this landscape as well as funding opportunities that may be of interest to the Graduate Institute’s research community.

The federal government has historically played a major role in funding university-based research and development (R&D), reaching a rate as high as 73 percent in the late 1960s. Even though the federal share of university R&D has flattened out in the last decade, it remains around 60 percent. Academic institutions come in second place, funding more than 20 percent of the total share of university R&D, as they are increasingly using their own internal funds to finance research expenses that were once covered by external sources. The rest of the funding comes from industry, private foundations and state/local governments.

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Compared to their European colleagues, US researchers proportionally get more financial support from private foundations and revenues generated from the endowments of their universities. Like in Europe, however, the vast majority of sponsored research grants result from faculty-initiated proposals to the government. Even though leading universities have recently observed a shift toward corporate funding and foundations, the government still funded 75 percent of research at Harvard in 2014 and 86 percent of research at Johns Hopkins in 2015.

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Source: “Johns Hopkins leads US universities in research spending for 37th consecutive year”, The Hub –  John Hopkins University, 7 December 2016.

Research funding in the United States is highly politicised, since the Congress approves the agencies’ budgets annually and many research priorities such as renewable energy, stem cell research, climate change and national security are controversial or sensitive. With the coming into power of the new Trump administration, federal institutions such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are anticipating major cuts in their research funding. The National Science Foundation (NSF), which benefits from relatively stable bipartisan support, has traditionally proven less vulnerable to political pressure.

In line with global trends, the continued increase both in the number of researchers and the pressure put on universities to find external funding has led to steadily decreasing success rates for grant submissions. Combined with sequestration and a great ideological divide in Congress, the mood among US researchers and research institutions is therefore pessimistic.

While not a panacea, applying for US funding nevertheless constitutes an attractive opportunity for European-based researchers. With regards to project funding, they may essentially consider one of the following options:

  1. Direct tendering in response to bids from national agencies
  2. Cooperative projects with US-based researchers via the NSF
  3. Submissions to one of the many private foundations

Fifteen federal departments and a dozen other agencies directly fund research in the United States. At the federal level, the NIH, which has the highest research budget and encourages interdisciplinary approaches, the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the EPA provide opportunities for researchers in the humanities and social sciences working on health, trade, finance, security or environmental issues.

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The NSF’s Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE), in which the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) participates as a partnering agency, supports international collaborations across all NSF-supported disciplines. This means that Swiss teams involved in successful PIRE applications can be funded by the SNSF. Proposals must be submitted to the NSF in the United States. Alternatively, the National Endowment for the Humanities also funds a variety of projects and collaborative research.

The following US private foundations provide further funding opportunities:

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation claims the largest charitable endowment in the world and supports development and health programs in more than 100 countries. It offers funding and grants for research investigating issues related to education, homelessness, disease, poverty and hunger, both nationally and abroad.
  • The Rockefeller Foundation is committed to enrich and sustain the lives and livelihoods of poor and excluded people throughout the world. Its grantmaking is organised around creativity and culture, food security, global health, climate and the environment, urbanisation, and social and economic security.
  • The Carnegie Corporation of New York makes grants to promote international peace and to advance education and knowledge. It has programmes in education, democracy, international peace and security, and higher education and research in Africa.
  • The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation makes grants in community development, global security and sustainability. Its international programmes focus on human rights and international justice, peace and security, conservation and sustainable development, higher education in Africa and Russia, migration and human mobility, and population and reproductive health.
  • The Russell Sage Foundation is the principal US foundation devoted exclusively to research in the social sciences. Areas of research funding include labour markets, immigration, culture and religion, education, and economic and social issues.
  • The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research aids basic research in all branches of anthropology and closely related disciplines through funding research projects, conferences, symposia, fellowships and publications.
  • The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is a private foundation with five core areas of interest: higher education, including the humanities, libraries, and scholarly communication; museums and art conservation; performing arts; conservation and the environment; and information technology.
  • The Social Science Research Council works with practitioners, policymakers and academic researchers in the social sciences, related professions, and the humanities and natural sciences. It focuses on conflict and peacebuilding, development and social change, the public sphere, knowledge and learning, and strengthening global social science.
  • The Ford Foundation provides grants for projects that focus on strengthening democratic values, community and economic development, education, media, arts and culture, peace, social justice and human rights.
  • The Open Society Foundations, formerly the Open Society Institute, are an international grantmaking network founded by business magnate George Soros. The Foundations financially support civil society groups around the world, with a stated aim of advancing justice, education, public health and independent media.
  • The W.K Kellogg Foundation funds programmes in the areas of health, food systems and rural development, youth and education/higher education, philanthropy and volunteerism.
  • The Hyams Foundation makes grants in three programme areas: civic participation, community economic development and youth development.
  • The David and Lucile Packard Foundation provides grants to nonprofit organisations in the following programme areas: conservation, population, science; children, families and communities; arts; and organisational effectiveness and philanthropy.
  • The More Foundation provides international grants to research projects concentrating on environmental conservation and scientific research. The Andes and Amazon regions are the main beneficiaries of the foundation’s work, with projects aimed at forest conservation.

To conclude, here are two helpful links when looking for grant opportunities:

  • The Grants.gov Program Management Office is a central clearinghouse of information for finding grant opportunities and applying for funding from federal government sources.
  • Foundation Center is one of the largest databases of philanthropy in the United States, gathering information from more than 550 institutions eager to donate their money to creative, technical, medical, scientific and plenty of other causes.