HERD Survey History for Research Administrators

By February 19, 2024 No Comments
HERD survey history for research administration

The HERD Survey is run by the prestigious National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) with approval from the National Science Foundation (NSF). It’s more than just a collection of data points; it’s an ongoing documentation of academic research that evolves over time. It is also a free resource that is available to all.

But why is this survey so essential? Well, in addition to keeping records, the HERD Survey acts as a pulse of activity for academic research. Its value goes beyond the numbers; it’s like a compass that helps us find our way through the complicated path of funding, expenditures, and milestones. Let’s dive into the history of the HERD Survey and how it rose to prominence into its wider uses and applications today.

Pre-History: Before the HERD Survey

In order to understand the history of the HERD Survey, it’s important to look at the other tools and resources that were available to research administrators. Prior to the HERD Survey as we know it today, there were some measurements of research and development (R&D) activities at the academic level. For instance, in 1953, the National Science Foundation (NSF) began the Survey of Industrial Research and Development (SIRD).

This survey wasn’t just about academia; it covered R&D in both industry and higher education. It provided details about R&D expenditures, who was involved, where the funding came from, and which areas of research were being pursued. The data collection methods were pretty straightforward: participating institutions responded to questionnaires. There were also onsite visits to help document and substantiate the findings.

The SIRD is still carried out annually, and provides a different look at expenditures than the HERD Survey, which focuses specifically on research institutions.

Another measurement approach that predates the HERD Survey is the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. First published in 1973, and still in place today, the Carnegie Classification is less of a survey and more of a way to categorize colleges and universities based on their research activity levels. The Carnegie Classification relies on publicly available data, such as institutional reports and federal databases. The idea is to give a snapshot of which institutions are most active in research, as opposed to which ones are more focused in other areas.

The Direct Precursor to HERD: How It Began

As research disciplines became increasingly complex, it became challenging for academics to keep track of all the different expenditures and their applications. Additionally, universities and research programs were not fully communicating how much they spent on research, which left those outside of the program in the dark. What was missing was a survey that showed the bigger picture, across institutions, as well as an annual snapshot of academic research as a whole.

In response, in FY 1972, the NSF Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges (Academic R&D Expenditures Survey) was launched. For the first time, the amount spent on research expenditures was compiled across institutions, giving a more well-rounded picture of research activity as a whole. Now institutions had a way of comparing their spending allocations with similar sized programs, which provided both benchmarking metrics and competitive intelligence. This level of transparency was revolutionary.

The Birth of the HERD Survey

The Academic R&D Expenditures Survey continued annually until FY 2009. In FY 2010, it was officially replaced by the HERD Survey, which is similar to the one in place today. In the first year of the HERD survey, 889 institutions took part. According to the results, Johns Hopkins University was the institution that reported the greatest research and development expenditures among participating institutions, with research and development expenditures around $2.035 billion.

Jumping to the most recent survey released, the 2022 cycle, the number of academic institutions taking part increased to 900. As this survey reports, the total expenditures on research and development overall surpassed $97 billion. This represents an increase of more than $8 billion compared to the previous fiscal year, making it the largest annual growth ever recorded in terms of current dollars.

Adaptations and the HERD Survey

For some institutions, the HERD Survey has helped to reshape how their expenditures are managed. For example, in 2015, Indiana University changed how it reported its spending, leading to a big increase in research expenditures at one campus and a decrease at another. And when Yeshiva University separated from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 2016, the reported expenditures changed to better reflect HERD’s standardized process. These are two of many examples of how organizations have adapted to HERD’s practices.

The HERD survey itself has also changed to keep up with the times. For example, a shorter version of the survey was launched in 2012 for institutions with smaller expenditures, to make participation less time consuming. In 2016, the survey questions were updated to better reflect how research is carried out today. The revised version included more details about funding sources and greater specifics about research categories. In 2020, the questions were adjusted again to better reflect the roles and functions involved in research.

Most recently, minor changes were made to the HERD survey questions in 2023. These questions were clearly specified in the HERD survey guide and announced through a webinar called FY 2023 Survey Update Webinar organized by the NCSES on October 18, 2023, with approximately 700 participants. Overall, these changes show the willingness to adapt the HERD Survey to address changes in research funding over time.

Today’s HERD survey summarizes the federal, state, industry and other funds a university spends on all its research activities, and it also breaks those expenditures out by ten major fields: computer and information sciences; engineering; geosciences, atmospheric sciences, and ocean sciences; life sciences; mathematics and statistics; physical sciences; psychology; social sciences; other sciences; and non-science and engineering (fields like education, law and the humanities).

HERD Survey and Policies

The HERD Survey does a lot more than just present numbers factually; it has many practical implications. In fact, survey results have a big impact on policies and decisions. For example, data from the HERD Survey is frequently analyzed by government organizations and legislators to help prioritize which universities and academic fields will receive funding for research. Along these lines, the National Science Foundation (NSF) uses information from the HERD Survey to allocate funding for scientific research among universities and subject areas, as do other funders.

Additionally, policymakers can leverage the survey’s insights regarding research spending to pinpoint areas of strength. On an annual basis, policymakers can use the information gathered from the HERD Survey to determine patterns and trends in research and development efforts in higher education overall. Once determined, these findings can be used to allocate funds appropriately. This information can also be used to help set policies that encourage research and new ideas.

Government Spending Impact

Let’s look at FY 2021, a year in which the government significantly increased its financial support for science and engineering (S&E) activities at universities. During this period, funding increased by 10.5% to reach $43.2 billion, up from $39.1 billion in the previous year. Also concurrently, research and experimental development (R&D) received the largest portion of funding, totaling $39.5 billion in 2021. This represented an 8.0% increase from the $36.6 billion allocated in 2020. Funding for fellowships, traineeships, and training grants (FTTGs) also experienced a significant rise, reaching $1.8 billion in 2021, up by 7.9% from $1.6 billion in 2020.

This notable increase underscores a strengthened commitment to advancing research and innovation within academia in FY 2021. These funding decisions are a result of policy-making processes that involve elected officials, government agencies, and other stakeholders.  The decisions made by outside stakeholders have a large and measurable impact on the institutions involved, and can create big fluctuations on the HERD Survey from year to year. It is an intricate interplay between policymaking and resource allocation that helps to shape the landscape of scientific research and innovation in any given year.

Playing by the Rules: Understanding HERD Compliance

For participating institutions, the HERD Survey provides a set of rules to follow. These rules are not just for paperwork’s sake; they are also essential for keeping the survey accurate and trustworthy. Without rules, it might be tempting for institutions to over-report, which would skew their HERD Survey standings. But there are strict compliance policies in place that prohibit this.

It is clear from the outside that the NCSES truly values the HERD survey, and consistently emphasizes its importance in academic research and development. In this regard, while the NCSES does its best to uphold the survey’s integrity, participants also have a significant responsibility to ensure the continuity, reliability, and sustainability of the survey. The HERD survey can only continue to exist and shed light on research and development in higher education through the dedication of all involved.

By following the rules and guidelines for reporting on the HERD Survey, institutions help to ensure accurate data, which builds trust in the academic community and beyond.

Looking Forward: What’s Next for HERD Survey

As the HERD Survey continues to evolve, it’s natural to expect further developments in the coming years. These changes might involve adding new questions, broadening the scope of topics covered, and refining how data is collected. The aim is to keep the survey up-to-date and relevant to the ever-changing landscape of research and innovation in universities.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that predicting the exact trajectory of the HERD Survey is tricky. There are many factors at play, such as advances in technology, shifting research interests, and fluctuations in funding. These variables can influence how the survey adapts and grows over time.

While we can speculate about potential changes, it’s essential to approach the future of the HERD Survey with a degree of open mindedness. The only certainty is that it will continue to play a vital role in providing insights into the state of research and development in higher education. With each new iteration, it will be interesting to see how the HERD Survey evolves to meet the needs of universities, researchers, and policymakers alike.

Conclusion: The HERD Survey Is Here to Stay

The value of HERD Survey goes beyond the numbers. Looking at the trends year over year, it’s clear that the survey tells a story. Some institutions skyrocket while some have more measured growth. Research areas come and go in popularity. Some years bring big swings while others are more predictable. Looking beyond the numbers can give new appreciation to the HERD Survey and the information it captures.

With a history dating back to 1972, the HERD Survey is still as vital today as ever. The HERD Survey is not only a record of past, but also a part the ongoing story of higher education research. It helps to create transparency between institutions, along with healthy competition. We appreciate the HERD Survey’s influence, its strength, and its continued purpose in shaping the story of higher education and research.

Free Giveaway – HERD Visualizer

The HERD Survey is a very important asset for research administrators. However, the data tables (as they are provided) can be tough to work with. That’s why we created the HERD Visualizer. Ours is an interactive data studio that pulls in HERD metrics into an intuitive format. Apply custom filters, benchmark comparisons, and explore funding sources, all within a simple interface.

The HERD Visualizer is yours to use for free as a public resource. If you like what you see, we encourage you to upgrade to HERD Visualizer PRO for a nominal subscription fee. This version has more data tables, expanded interactive features, plus Carnegie Classification where available. It is well worth the subscription and it supports our community development initiatives.

Get to Know Streamlyne’s Software

If you would like to talk about growing your SPO, beyond the HERD Visualizer, we’re here to help. The HERD Visualizer is only the beginning of how our advanced software can make a difference. We would be glad to showcase our solution set against any competitor. With full confidence, we believe you will be impressed by Streamlyne Research and its advantages for your research program. Please contact us at your earliest convenience, and we’ll start tailoring recommendations around your growth goals and needs. We look forward to hearing from you soon!