Research Productivity in a System of Universities

University of Florida WP #96-97-8

Posted: 6 Aug 1997

See all articles by James D. Adams

James D. Adams

Dept of Economics, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Zvi Griliches


Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: October 1996


The focus of this paper is on the research performance of a system of universities and sciences. Using data from the United States during the nineteen eighties we study the relationship between research output and R&D in eight 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 rate of growth of R&D, with the exceptions of mathematics and agriculture, which diverge from parity in opposite directions. This suggests the predominance of a CRS production process for new scientific results. We then conduct an analysis at the university and field level. For this purpose we use small samples of leading U.S. research universities. We now find that returns to R&D are diminishing in nearly every case. Two explanations are offered for the divergence in results. The first 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. The second explanation is that errors in R&D are more important at the university level. The errors arise mostly from misclassification of R&D by university and field. Together these explanations emphasize the relevance of research spillovers and of the system-wide aspects of university research. They also pinpoint the sources of the many failings of contemporary data on science resources and stress the value of better accounting for university R&D, resources, and outputs. 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 once again that private schools have a comparative advantage at generating more highly cited research.

JEL Classification: D2, L3, O3

Suggested Citation

Adams, James D. and Griliches, Zvi, Research Productivity in a System of Universities (October 1996). University of Florida WP #96-97-8, Available at SSRN:

James D. Adams (Contact Author)

Dept of Economics, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute ( email )

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Zvi Griliches


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