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China Continues Research Rise

Statistics: Report shows Asian R&D investment increasing while U.S. stagnates

by Andrea Widener
January 20, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 4

Asia’s investment in science and engineering is continuing at a breakneck clip while the U.S. and European Union are failing to keep up with that pace, according to a new report on science worldwide.

The U.S. is still the leader in science spending and other measures of research dominance, according to Science & Engineering Indicators 2016, a main source of international research and development data. But that lead is narrowing.

China has increased its science investment at an average rate of 19.5% a year during the last decade. By contrast, U.S. spending increased just 4.5%, largely driven by industry spending because federal research funding is falling.

The U.S. shouldn’t be afraid of improving research abroad, says Kelvin Droegemeier, vice chair of the National Science Board, the National Science Foundation’s policy arm and publisher of the report. “There is plenty of room for lots of players,” he says.

But the U.S. could soon fall behind, Droegemeier adds. “It really is about U.S. competitiveness.”

One example is in education. In China, 49% of all bachelor’s degrees are awarded in science and engineering, far outpacing the number awarded elsewhere. For now, the U.S. continues to dominate doctoral degree education—awarding 36,900 science and engineering PhDs each year—and it continues to be the destination for top international graduate students.

Another involves knowledge-intensive industries. The U.S. and the EU dominate overall. But in the important high-tech manufacturing sector, China was responsible for 27% of production worldwide, just slightly behind the U.S. at 29%.

The decline in U.S. federal R&D investment has hurt universities that perform most basic research that leads to new instruments and products, says Dan Arvizu, chair of the science board. “That won’t get done unless the government and the agencies continue to make those kinds of investments.”


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