A new study recently published by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on this topic (NSF 12-235, Collaboration in Academic R&D: A Decade of Growth in Pass-Through Funding) demonstrates an increase in research collaboration. In 2009, pass-through funds represented 7% of total academic R&D expenditures compared with 5% in FY 2000. These data were derived from the NSF annual Survey of R&D Expenditures at Universities and Colleges.
Pass-through funding was noted to be heavily concentrated in the most research-intensive universities, with approximately 72% of total academic R&D expenditures passed through to others by this group. A small set of major public and private universities gave and received a significant percentage of the total dollar value of pass-through funding over the period 2000-2009. When looked as as a percentage of total R&D expenditures of the institution rather than simply as total dollars, there was significantly more diversity the the types of institutions that reported high rates of giving or receiving pass-through funds.
Approximately 85% of pass-through funds reported came from federal awards. The percentage of pass-through funds received by public schools remained largely constant over the period 2000-2009, however private schools share of federal pass-through funds increased from 68% in 2000, to 78% in 2009.
These data corroborate what I think we all recognize anecdotally, that inter-institutional research collaboration in research activity is growing in importance and that is true at both large and small institutions. It should be no surprise then, that increasing scrutiny is placed on tracing those pass-through funds through the sub recipient monitoring activities associated with Recovery Act funds and likely to be codified broadly if and when the DATA Act becomes law.