Top Research Leaders Predict the Future of Research

Tony Haber

In Brief

4-Minute Read

Recent survey of institutions identifies key trends in data security, cross-disciplinary research and movement to the cloud.

Identifying future trends provides higher education institutions the opportunity to continue driving research innovation in the United States – and the world. In a recent poll conducted by Huron at the 2018 Huron Software User Group Meeting, representatives from 60 of the top North American research institutions shared their predictions for the future of research. The survey participants represented a broad cross section of research roles and institutional sizes. Figure 1 shows the demographic breakdown by role of the participants and what level their research expenditures were last year.

Two pie charts that show demographics of research participants by institution size and role
Figure 1-Institutional Demographics

Respondents shared their impressions of 10 trend statements describing possible directions in the future of research. The potential trends were grouped into three areas of concentration for respondents to react to: The Business of Research, Researchers and IT.


The Business of Research

  1. Federal Funding: By 2025, most university research funding won’t come from the federal government.
  2. Consolidation: By 2025, a third of the research enterprises with funding under $25 million will merge or close.
  3. Outsourcing: By 2025, half of all “routine” research administration functions (e.g., compliance reviews, coverage analysis, etc.) will be outsourced.
  4. Fiscal Policy: By 2025, the U.S. will make a major shift towards evidence-based fiscal policy and decision making, prioritizing science over politics.


  6. Researcher Retirement: By 2025, almost half of today’s top funded researchers will have retired.
  7. Research Burden: By 2025, reductions in administrative burden will give researchers 25 percent more time for research.

    Information Technology

  9. Cloud: By 2025, less than half of research institutions will manage their own data centers.
  10. Big Data: By 2025, big data will transform both scientific discovery and research administration, but not before it almost crushes both.
  11. Cross Discipline Research: Over the next seven years, the biggest breakthroughs will come from cross-disciplinary research.
  12. Data Security: By 2025, data security will still be the top concern for CIOs.

Survey participants were asked to what degree they either agreed or disagreed with each of the trend statements and were provided an opportunity to write in additional insights on trends.

Figure 2 shows the 10 trends ranked from most likely to least likely. The results showed a continued focus on data security, major research breakthroughs resulting from cross-disciplinary research and data centers moving to the cloud. Freeing up researchers from increased administrative burden was the least likely of the trends to happen in the next five to 10 years. The survey also measured how confident participants were in their predictions. Figure 2 also shows that confidence increased on both ends of the spectrum.

A double bar chart of the likelihood of and confidence in 10 research trends
Figure 2-Trends Rankings (Most Likely to Least Likely) with Confidence

Additional insights beyond the 10 trends evaluated in the survey identified other impacts to the research environment in the next five to 10 years. Impacts from this portion of the survey included:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) to assist researchers
  • Global research competition and collaboration
  • Personalized medicine
  • An increased emphasis on reproducibility of results

Feedback from Institutions at the conference revealed a common view that change in the business of research is accelerating across multiple fronts, making the industry more dynamic and more complex. The survey findings imply that strategies to align the institution to the major trends identified will be likely as organizations seek to own their futures. The next generation of scientific discoveries hinges on the ability of research leaders to master change by adopting new business models and thereby accelerate the future of research. 

Download the slides from our future of research webinar to explore top research and technology trends.

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