Research and Technology Transfer Report details research growth at universities, COVID-19 response

Photo three researchers in masks, safety glasses and gowns in a lab

Research and Technology Transfer Report details research growth at universities, COVID-19 response

June 14, 2021

In fiscal year 2020, research expenditures at Arizona’s public universities increased year-over-year by $55.1 million or 3.8 percent to $1.488 billion. Collectively, the universities exceeded the board’s research expenditure metric goal by nearly $95 million. The board approved the Fiscal Year 2020 ABOR Research and Technology Transfer Activity Report detailing the research enterprise outcomes.

The universities’ research missions are crucial as the research created at Arizona’s public universities is an essential part of Arizona’s economic future and the means by which new technologies are created and discoveries are made, thereby enhancing the lives of Arizonans. The sheer breadth and depth of university research has a substantial influence on regional economies from impacting the workforce with talented graduates to building new technologies and businesses through start-up companies and partnerships with local industries.

“Research at our universities contributes lifesaving technology to society and is essential to our state’s economic growth, said Regent Fred DuVal, chair of the Arizona Board of Regents Research and Health Sciences Committee. “All of our universities contributed immensely to provide essential research during the pandemic as well as serving as vaccine sites, offering educational resources to the community and aiding underserved communities. It is a remarkable feat of knowledge and hard work to see how quickly the universities’ research enterprise could aid our state when it was needed most during the pandemic.”

Research focused on COVID-19 was instrumental to the state’s response to and management of the pandemic, and the enterprise accomplished additional major milestones during the year. Additional major milestones include:

  • Arizona State University’s technology transfer and commercialization activities garnered worldwide recognition, including ranking 10th for U.S. patents issued to U.S. universities.
  • Northern Arizona University over the past decade has grown its annual research expenditures by $35.7 million or 124 percent.
  • The University of Arizona experienced a substantial increase in its research over the prior three years with research expenditures totaling $750.1 million in fiscal year 2020.

All three of the universities are internationally recognized for their research activity. ASU and UArizona are among the nation’s elite 131 universities classified as “R1: Doctoral Universities - Very High Research Activity,” and NAU is among the nation’s exceptional 135 universities designated “R2: Doctoral Universities - High Research Activity.”

Highlights from each university include:


  • ASU continues its decade-long trend of being one of the fastest growing research enterprises in the country. The university’s research activity – as measured by research expenditures – totaled over $673.4 million in fiscal year 2020, exceeding fiscal year 2019’s expenditures by $33.8 million or 5.3 percent. ASU missed this year’s projected metric target, but the institution has surpassed annual metric targets for the past nine years and has cumulatively exceeded its goals by $185 million over the past decade.
  • ASU’s total research expenditures ranking continues to improve, rising from 44th in 2016 to 43rd in 2019 among all U.S. universities and from 27th in 2016 to 26th in 2019 among public universities. ASU is now ranked sixth nationally in total research expenditures for universities without a medical school.
  • The university entered into 78 license and option agreements in 2020, which was slightly down from fiscal year 2019, but exceeded its annual metric target of 70 agreements. ASU’s invention disclosures, U.S. patents issued and startup companies formed all increased during fiscal year 2020.


  • NAU continues its steady growth in research. The university’s research expenditures totaled over $64.5 million in fiscal year 2020, surpassing its fiscal year 2019 expenditures by $5.6 million or 9.5 percent. The university exceeded its fiscal year 2020 annual metric target by $25 million.
  • The university’s total research expenditure ranking rose significantly, improving from 213th in 2016 to 191st in 2019 among all U.S. universities and 156th in 2016 to 139th in 2019 among U.S. public universities.
  • In technology transfer, NAU again exceeded its enterprise goal for invention disclosures, receiving 43 disclosures - 10 more than their goal for the fiscal year. New patent applications, U.S. patents received, and licenses and options executed all remained steady, and NAU formed its first startup since 2017.


  • UArizona’s research expenditures totaled $750.1 million, surpassing its fiscal year 2019 expenditures by $15.8 million or 2.2 percent and exceeding its enterprise goal for the year by $96.4 million. The university’s annual research expenditures have increased by $163.5 million or 27.9 percent over the past decade.
  • UArizona’s total research expenditure ranking continues to improve, rising from 38th in 2016 to 34th in 2019 among all U.S. universities, and from 23rd in 2016 to 19th in 2019 among U.S. public universities.
  • UArizona’s technology transfer and commercialization activities remained steady in fiscal year 2020. The university entered into 95 license and option agreements. This is in line with the number of licenses and options executed in fiscal year 2019, but nine agreements short of its metric target. Licensing and options income, however, increased from $5.9 million to $7.3 million year-over-year, extending its continuous advance from $2 million in 2016. In fiscal year 2020, UArizona was also issued 87 U.S. patents – an increase of 31 from 2019, and the university formed 19 startups.



Sarah Harper, 602-229-2542, 602-402-1341 |
Julie Newberg, 602-229-2534 |