GLOBAL: US, Europe and Japan challenged in R&D

While the US, Europe and Japan may still be leading the global research and development effort, they are increasingly being challenged by emerging countries, especially China. This is one of the findings of the UNESCO Science Report 2010, launched at the organisation's headquarters in Paris on World Science Day, 10 November.

The report depicts a rapidly changing landscape: investment in research and development (R&D) is growing globally in volume* but emerging countries are clearly gaining strength in science and technology. This is especially in terms of Asia's share of gross domestic expenditure on research and development, known as GERD.

Led mainly by China, India and South Korea, Asia's share increased from 27% to 32% between 2002 and 2007. Over the same period the three heavyweights, the EU, US and Japan, registered a decrease.

In 2002, almost 83% of R&D was carried out in developed countries but by 2007 this had dropped to 76%.

When industry's contribution to GERD is considered, between 2000 and 2007 the private sector share of R&D spending, as a proportion of GDP, saw a sharp increase in Japan, China, Singapore and especially Korea but remained stable in Germany, France and the UK with even a slight decrease in the Russian Federation and the US.

"The distribution of R&D efforts between north and south has changed with the emergence of new players in the global economy," UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova says in a foreword to the report.

"The bipolar world in which science and technology were dominated by the gradually giving way to a multi-polar world, with an increasing number of public and private research hubs spreading across north and south."

The proportion of researchers in developing countries increased from 30% in 2002 to 38% in 2007. Two-thirds of this increase occurred in China which, with its 1,423,400 researchers in 2007, was on the verge of overtaking the US and the EU.

Today Europe, the US and China each contribute 20% of the world's researchers, followed by Japan (10%) and the Russian Federation (7%).

The share of scientific publications in developed countries fell from 84% in 2002 to 75% in 2008. During this period, China's share more than doubled, increasing from 5.2% to 10.6%, even if the citation rate of its articles lags behind those in the Triad. The number of articles published by researchers in Latin America has also increased, mostly thanks to Brazil.

The report says this transformation is being helped by the extremely rapid development of the internet, which has become "a powerful vector" for disseminating knowledge. Throughout the world, the number of connections leaped noticeably from 2002 to 2007.

But this advance is even more significant in emerging countries. In 2002, just over 10 out of 100 people globally used the internet whereas today more than 23 per 100 use it. This proportion rose from 1.2 to eight in the same period in Africa, from 2.8 to 16 in the Arab States and from 8.6 to 28 in Latin America.

"The rapid diffusion of internet in the south is one of the most promising new trends of the millennium," the report states.

"While the emerging economies have been content, until now, to carry out R&D activities outsourced from the developing countries, they have now moved on to a process of autonomous technological development and applied research.

"China, Brazil, and India have thus initiated simultaneous catching-up processes in industry, science and technology. This has also meant the arrival on the world scene of multinational firms from emerging countries in sectors such as automobile manufacturing, consumer goods and high-tech industries like aircraft manufacturing."

The Triad countries, however, have maintained their lead and that is in patents, says the report: "Of all the indicators used, it is the patent indicator which points most strikingly to the inequality of knowledge creation at the global level. The US Patents and Trademark Office, European Patent Office and Japan Patent Office claim the lion's share, and patents filed with these bodies mean they are of a high quality.

"Also, while developing countries are training more researchers and scientists, this does not necessarily mean that they will easily find jobs in the country of origin, feeding a South-North and North-North migration of graduates.

"India, Turkey, some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia are particularly faced with this problem. At least one-third of African researchers were estimated to be working abroad in 2009. According to OECD data cited in a British study in 2008, out of 59 million migrants living in OECD countries, 20 million were highly qualified."

The report says although it is hard to quantify the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, the global recession could have an impact on R&D budgets, which are often vulnerable to cuts in times of crisis.

American firms, among the most active in terms of R&D, slashed their budgets by 5% to 25% in 2009. As a result, the US has been harder hit than Brazil, China and India, which enabled these countries to catch up faster than they would have without the crisis.

"I am convinced that, more than ever, regional and international scientific cooperation is crucial to addressing the interrelated, complex and growing global challenges with which we are confronted," Bokova says in her foreword.

"Increasingly, international diplomacy will take the form of science diplomacy in the years to come. In this respect, UNESCO must and will pursue its efforts to strengthen international partnerships and cooperation, in particular South-South cooperation.

"This science dimension of diplomacy was one of the original reasons for including science in UNESCO's mandate. It has fundamental significance for UNESCO nowadays, at a time when science has tremendous power to shape the future of humanity and when it no longer makes much sense to design science policy in purely national terms."

The report was written by a team of international experts and presents an overview of global trends in science and technology, based on a wide range of qualitative and quantitative indicators.

It is divided into chapters devoted to the various regions, with spotlights on certain individual countries (Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, India, Iran, Japan, Korea, Russia, Turkey and US).

Previous UNESCO science reports were published in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2005

* The share of world GDP devoted to R&D reached 1.7% in 2007, a percentage comparable to that for 2002, but the amount in US dollars rose from US$790 billion to US$1,146 billion, a growth of 45%. This is slightly greater than the growth in GDP for the same period (43%).