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Lab Facilities Gap Widens

WASHINGTON-The 50 U.S. universities that spend the most on R&D already average more than three times the research space available at less affluent institutions, according to a new survey re leased late last month by the National Science Foundation. In addition, plans for expanding and refurbishing research space at these institutions in the next five years outstrip by 25 percent similar construction plans at the other 115 schools. What NSF calls the "top 50" schools expect to have 12.3 milli

By | November 17, 1986

WASHINGTON-The 50 U.S. universities that spend the most on R&D already average more than three times the research space available at less affluent institutions, according to a new survey re leased late last month by the National Science Foundation.

In addition, plans for expanding and refurbishing research space at these institutions in the next five years outstrip by 25 percent similar construction plans at the other 115 schools. What NSF calls the "top 50" schools expect to have 12.3 million more square feet of re search space by 1991.

NSF last spring conducted two quick surveys of research administrators and deans at 165 doctorate-granting institutions. The administrators reported that current construction will cost $1.7 billion-more than half of it at the top 50 institutions-and increase research space by 7 percent. New construction will increase research space 19 percent in the next five years at a cost of $5.8 billion, up-wards of 60 percent of it spent by the top 50.

Only about 10 percent of those funds now come from the federal government, and universities expect even that small share to decline. A growing share comes from private sources and endowments, especially at the top 50. Tax-exempt bonds supply as much as one-third, and the states provide the rest, in the case of public universities more than one-half the total cost.

Despite the construction in progress or planned, most of the surveyed administrators at the top 50 schools rate their present re search facilities as good or excel-lent. Most at the other schools call their facilities fair or poor.

Almost all the respondents said they need more research space; three-fourths said new space was more urgent than repair and up-grading of existing space. More than 80 percent said their present facilities prevented them from doing some kinds of research, and that maintenance and repair needs had diverted money from research itself.

Some Highlights

The survey attempted to pinpoint similarities and differences in re search facilities available or planned for nine areas of science and engineering. Among its findings are:

  • Engineering departments are undergoing the most construction. The fields of materials, biochemical and electrical engineering and microelectronics were seen as those in greatest need;
  • Environmental science facilities are in the worst shape, with re search facilities for geology, atmospheric science and meteorology most in need of upgrading.
  • Medical science deans are happy with their facilities but feel more space is vital. Medical fields needing the most attention are neurobiology, molecular biology and molecular genetics. Life sciences deans are slightly less content, and cite biochemistry, biophysics, microbiology and plant biology as the areas of greatest need;
  • Deans in the physical sciences, especially physics and chemistry, said improved facilities are the most pressing research need. One dean remarked he was still looking for "a place to house a telescope that NSF gave us money for 10 years ago."

The report is titled Science and Engineering Research Facilities at Doctorate-Granting Institutions.
 

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