Washington Update

Recent Report Highlights Trends for NSF Awards

By: Yvette Seger
Wednesday, July 26, 2023
Earlier this month, the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation (NSF) released its Merit Review Digest for fiscal year (FY) 2021, which provides annual statistics on the agency’s application and award rates as well as applicant and awardee demographics. In FY 2021, NSF saw a return to the pre-pandemic award rates, funding 11,344 new competitive awards and an overall 26 percent award rate. These and continuing grants and renewals support an estimated 44,600 senior personnel, 5,000 postdoctoral scholars, and 30,300 graduate students.

As an increasing number of directorates adopt no-deadlines policies for grant applications, NSF continues to see a decrease in the number of proposals submitted by approximately 10 percent versus FY 2018. Building upon this, in FY 2021, the foundation adopted several changes to reduce administrative burdens on those submitting proposals, including standardized biosketch and other pending support documentation. In addition, reducing the total number of proposals received and requiring external review, NSF is pursuing other strategies – including a re-evaluation of the merit review criteria – to decrease reviewer workload. This latter effort is being spearheaded by a joint NSB-NSF Commission for which a final report and recommendations are expected in the first half of 2024.

Across NSF directorates, principal investigators (PIs) identifying as female had a slightly higher award rate than males and those not wishing to disclose (31 percent versus 27 percent and 11 percent, respectively). FY 2020 trends for PI ethnicity were generally maintained, with a 30 percent funding rate for those identifying as Hispanic or Latino, despite slight decreases for Non-Hispanic or Latino or Unreported (31 to 28 percent and 19 to 15 percent, respectively). For PI race, a few interesting trends emerged, with a slight increase in funding rate for Black or African American PIs (27 to 29 percent) and Multiracial (30 to 36 percent) over FY 2020. However, funding rates for American Indian or Alaska Native across NSF decreased 45 to 38 percent, and PIs of Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, White, and Other/Self-Identified race experienced slight decreases in overall funding rate from FY 2020 to FY 2021, in line with the overall 2 percent decrease in funding rate across the Foundation.

The report also provides by directorate level analyses for award rates by sex, race, and ethnicity, as well as a comparison of average dollar value of awards. Excel files for the data included in the current and past reports are also available for download.