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Less time for science: Added duties offset researchers’ gains in productivity

Today’s land grant faculty are getting significantly more research done in less time, but they are finding significantly less time to do it. As a result, the level of public research has remained stable over the past 30 years, according to newly published findings of research conducted at UW-Madison.

“[T]he benefits of increased faculty productivity substantially have been swallowed by increases in administrative work and the search for competitive grants, rather than either generating new scientific output or freeing up faculty time to teach the next generation of scholars,” conclude authors Daniel Prager, Jeremy Foltz and Brad Barham, in a study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

Prager is a USDA Economics Research Service researcher who recently earned his Ph.D. from the UW-Madison Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. Barham and Foltz are professors in that department.

Their conclusions are based on data from surveys of agricultural and life scientists at U.S. land grant universities conducted in 1979, 1989, 1995 and 2005.

The researchers note that their estimates of gains in scientists’ productivity likely underestimate the full change, since they don’t account for rising quality of Land Grant university research and increasing alternate demands of commercialization and patenting. “At the same time, increases in administrative workloads of faculty in both explicit and implicit forms, perhaps in part fostered by technological change, have reduced faculty time allocation to research sufficiently to leave the core scholarly research activities at the same output level as before the productivity improvements,” they say.

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