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Research Productivity in a System of Universities


  • James D. Adams
  • Zvi Griliches


The focus of this paper is the research performance of a system of universities and sciences. Using data from the US during the 1980s we study the relationship between research output and R&D in 8 different fields of science We begin at the field level by examining the time series behavior of outputs measured by papers and citations in relation to R&D. At this level we find approximate parity between growth rates of papers and citations and the growth rate of R&D, except mathematics and agriculture, which diverge from parity in opposite directions, suggesting the predominance of a CRS production process for new scientific results. We then conduct an analysis at the university and field using small samples of leading U.S. research universities. We find returns to R&D are diminishing in nearly every case. One explanation points to the importance of research spillovers between universities and fields which are excluded at the university level but not at the system level, another is that errors in R&D are more important at the university level. The errors arise from misclassification of R&D by university and field. These explanations emphasize the relevance of research spillovers and of the system-wide aspects of university research, and pinpoint the sources of failings of current data on science resource. In addition we explore some efficiency aspects of the university system. Our findings suggest that leading schools have lower average and marginal costs of performing research than lesser institutions, and that leading institutions have a comparative advantage at generating higher quality, more highly cited research. In our comparisons of private and public institutions the results are not as one-sided, yet they suggest that private schools have a comparative advantage at generating more highly cited research.

Suggested Citation

  • James D. Adams & Zvi Griliches, 1996. "Research Productivity in a System of Universities," NBER Working Papers 5833, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5833
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Stephan, Paula E., 2010. "The Economics of Science," Handbook of the Economics of Innovation, Elsevier.
    2. Evenson, Robert E & Kislev, Yoav, 1976. "A Stochastic Model of Applied Research," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(2), pages 265-281, April.
    3. Adams, James D, 1990. "Fundamental Stocks of Knowledge and Productivity Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(4), pages 673-702, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Wang, Eric C., 2010. "Determinants of R&D investment: The Extreme-Bounds-Analysis approach applied to 26 OECD countries," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 103-116, February.
    2. Saul Lach & Mark Schankerman, 2008. "Incentives and invention in universities," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 39(2), pages 403-433.
    3. Rosenbloom, Joshua L. & Ginther, Donna K., 2016. "Show me the Money: Federal R&D Support for Academic Chemistry, 1990–2009," ISU General Staff Papers 201612290800001018, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
    4. A. Abigail Payne, 2003. "The Effects of Congressional Appropriation Committee Membership on the Distribution of Federal Research Funding to Universities," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 41(2), pages 325-345, April.
    5. repec:spr:scient:v:94:y:2013:i:3:d:10.1007_s11192-012-0864-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Paul Heisey & Sarah Adelman, 2011. "Research expenditures, technology transfer activity, and university licensing revenue," The Journal of Technology Transfer, Springer, vol. 36(1), pages 38-60, February.
    7. Daniel Chudnovsky & Andrés López & Martín Rossi & Diego Ubfal, 2006. "Evaluating a Program of Public Funding of Scientific Activity. A Case Study of FONCYT in Argentina," OVE Working Papers 1206, Inter-American Development Bank, Office of Evaluation and Oversight (OVE).
    8. Abramo, Giovanni & Cicero, Tindaro & D’Angelo, Ciriaco Andrea, 2011. "A field-standardized application of DEA to national-scale research assessment of universities," Journal of Informetrics, Elsevier, vol. 5(4), pages 618-628.
    9. repec:eee:soceps:v:61:y:2018:i:c:p:16-28 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Cristiano Antonelli & Chiara Franzoni & Aldo Geuna, 2011. "The Contributions of Economics to a Science of Science Policy," Chapters,in: Science and Innovation Policy for the New Knowledge Economy, chapter 1 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    11. repec:spr:scient:v:112:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s11192-017-2355-5 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. James D. Adams, 2002. "Comparative localization of academic and industrial spillovers," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 2(3), pages 253-278, July.
    13. Liang Zhang & Wei Bao & Liang Sun, 2016. "Resources and Research Production in Higher Education: A Longitudinal Analysis of Chinese Universities, 2000–2010," Research in Higher Education, Springer;Association for Institutional Research, vol. 57(7), pages 869-891, November.
    14. repec:spr:scient:v:87:y:2011:i:3:d:10.1007_s11192-011-0362-5 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. repec:spr:scient:v:102:y:2015:i:1:d:10.1007_s11192-014-1432-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. repec:spr:scient:v:85:y:2010:i:2:d:10.1007_s11192-010-0263-z is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Lee Branstetter & Yoshiaki Ogura, 2005. "Is Academic Science Driving a Surge in Industrial Innovation? Evidence from Patent Citations," NBER Working Papers 11561, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. A. Abigail Payne & Aloysius Siow, 1998. "Estimating the Effects of Federal Research Funding on Universities using Alumni Representation on Congressional Appropriations Committees," Working Papers siow-99-02, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
    19. Zhang, Liang & Ehrenberg, Ronald G., 2010. "Faculty employment and R&D expenditures at Research universities," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 329-337, June.
    20. repec:spr:scient:v:87:y:2011:i:3:d:10.1007_s11192-011-0352-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    21. repec:spr:scient:v:99:y:2014:i:3:d:10.1007_s11192-013-1149-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    22. Lee, Yoo Hwan & Graff, Gregory D., 2016. "Academic Knowledge Spillovers and the Role of Geographic Proximity in Regional Agriculture-related Sectors: The impact of agricultural research at Colorado State University on the Colorado economy, an," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, 2016, Boston, Massachusetts 235717, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    23. Donald Siegel & David Waldman & Albert Link, 1999. "Assessing the Impact of Organizational Practices on the Productivity of University Technology Transfer Offices: An Exploratory Study," NBER Working Papers 7256, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    24. Xia, Yin, 2004. "University Basic Research And Applied Agricultural Biotechnology," 2004 Annual meeting, August 1-4, Denver, CO 20187, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).

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    JEL classification:

    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
    • L3 - Industrial Organization - - Nonprofit Organizations and Public Enterprise


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