» Asia leaping forward in science and technology, but Japan feels the global recession, shows UNESCO report
08.11.2010 - UNESCOPRESS

Asia leaping forward in science and technology, but Japan feels the global recession, shows UNESCO report

Over the past decade, China has multiplied its spending on research and development (R&D) sixfold, doubled the number of scientific papers it publishes*, and significantly increased the proportion of doctorates in science and engineering. As India and the Republic of Korea also gain in economic strength, Asia is fast becoming a driving force in research and development (R&D), while the European Union, Japan and the USA (the so-called Triad) slow down under the effects of the global recession. These are some of the findings of the UNESCO Science Report 2010, presented at the Organization’s Paris headquarters on 10 November to coincide with World Science Day. The report presents a global overview of R&D, including chapters spotlighting China, India, Iran, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

With the exception of Japan, most of Asia has emerged virtually unscathed from the global recession triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis in the USA in 2008. In August 2010, China even overtook Japan to become the second-largest national economy in the world in terms of GDP, partly thanks to massive government investment in the nation’s industries. Between 2000 and 2008, gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) leapt from 89.6 billion Yuan (US$ 10.8 billion) to 461.6 billion Yuan (US$ 66.5 billion), an average annual growth rate of 22.8%. The ratio of GERD to GDP – a useful indicator for comparisons between economies – also rose, from 0.90% in 2000 to 1.54% in 2008. Much of this growth was driven by the enterprise sector, which contributed 60% of total expenditure in 2000 and as much as 73% eight years later.

China is also on the verge of overtaking both the USA and the EU for the sheer number of its researchers. The research pool nearly doubled between 2002 and 2007 from 810,500 to 1.42 million. Chinese researchers now represent about 20% of the world’s stock. China has also seen its share of global scientific output, as measured in scientific publications listed in the Science Citation Index (SCI), double between 2002 and 2008 from 5.2% to 10.6%, placing it second only to the USA in numerical terms**.

But, impressive as these figures are, China still has a long way to go to catch up to the developed world. At US$ 368.1 billion, the USA’s spending on R&D was about 5.5 times that of China in 2007. China may count almost as many researchers as the USA but it has a density of researchers of 1.83 per 1000 labour force, compared to 9.40 in the USA. At 9.17, the Republic of Korea comes much closer to rivalling the USA for this indicator.

Although China has increased its GERD/GDP ratio substantially in the past decade, the Republic of Korea has realized an even bigger feat: its own ratio has gone from 2.5% in 2003 to 3.4% in 2008. Moreover, the government plans to raise this ratio to a staggering 5% by 2012. The Korean government sees science and technology as being key to becoming an ‘advanced country’ and world power. Even in Japan, where the global recession has slowed growth, the ratio of GERD to GDP remains one of the highest in the world, at 3.7% in 2008. China, says the UNESCO report, ‘is still in a catching-up phase,’ with its economic structure heavily dominated by non-technology intensive activities.

 Similarly, despite the impressive number of publications from China, the report points out that their impact is much lower than in the Triad. The citation rate (average citations per paper) for China is about 4.61, which is almost level with India (4.59) but much lower than the 14.28 citations for US papers, 12.92 for the UK, 10.82 for France and 9.04 for Japan. China also lags behind the developed world in terms of another index of performance – the number of patents – with 22.4 domestic resident invention patents per thousand researchers in 2007, compared to 412.9 in the Republic of Korea, 204.3 in Japan, and 63.0 in the USA (2006 figures).

The Republic of Korea is thus another Asian rising star in global R&D, ‘probably the world’s most committed country to science and technology innovation (STI)’, according to the report. In the past, economic growth in the Republic of Korea relied on imitation, but the country was able to assimilate advanced technologies and improve on them by investing in R&D. After shrinking by 5.6% in 2008, the country’s economy is expected to grow by 4.4% in 2010, the highest growth rate among OECD countries.

<s></s>While the Korean government has steadily increased public sector investment in R&D, from US$ 4.9 billion in 2003 to US$ 8.3 billion in 2008, it has also introduced a range of stimulus packages and tax incentives to boost private sector investment, which grew an average rate of 12.3% per annum from 2003 to 2008.  The Republic of Korea is also responding to a need for more trained researchers. Between 2001 and 2007, their number rose from 37.8  to 53.1 per 10,000 population and the government plans to double this ratio to 100 by 2012. Moreover, thanks to a propitious policy environment, the percentage of active women researchers increased from 18.2% in 2003 to 24.6% in 2007. Korea also increased the number of patents it registered in the USA by 99.4% between 2003 and 2008 to 7 549, ranking the Republic of Korea fourth in the world for this indicator.

 Like China, India has also witnessed a booming economy, but GERD has remained relatively stable, rising only from 0.80% to 0.88% of GDP between 2003 and 2007, while China’s grew from 1.13% to 1.54% between 2003 and 2008.. Government still provides about two-thirds of GERD in India, although industry has increased its share to an estimated 28% of GERD, up from 18% in 2003. In India, government investment tends to focus on high-tech industries like defence, space science, IT and pharmaceuticals, while universities contribute only about 5% of GERD. India has been the world’s largest exporter of IT services since 2005, while turnover in the Indian pharmaceuticals industry has risen from US$ 300 million in 1980 to about US$ 19 billion in 2008, mostly through exports and contract manufacturing for foreign companies. Indian companies have also been investing in technology companies abroad, thereby acquiring the firms’ knowledge capital overnight.”

 However, despite its large population, India only provides 2.2% of the world total of researchers, and there is a steady flow of highly skilled people out of the country. Indeed, Indian industry is now complaining of a shortage of skilled personnel. The central government has reacted by deciding to create 30 universities across the country, including 14 world-class innovation universities. However, the labour shortage also stems from internal brain: the number of foreign R&D centres mushroomed from fewer than 100 in 2003 to about 750 by the end of 2009.  These foreign investors can afford to attract the best candidates, further starving domestic R&D.

 In contrast to its Asian neighbours, Japan, one of the Triad alongside USA and the EU, and a high-profile player in global R&D for over two decades, has been hard hit by the economic recession. It lags behind the other highly developed countries in terms of scientific publications and GDP per capita. And, says the UNESCO report, Japan’s innovation system ‘appears weak when it comes to translating the country’s big investment in human research capital and R&D into sufficient scientific and economic value.’ But, adds the report, there is a longer-term problem that dates back to the 1990s when Japan spent extravagantly on expensive public works to stimulate the economy, ‘As a result, government debt has soared to the point where it easily exceeds annual GDP’. This situation is compounded by a soaring social security bill from its aging population. With policy dominated, until recently, by Western models, says the report, ‘a fundamental change in mindset is required for the sound and sustained development of S&T in Japan.’

 Nevertheless, Japan retains its dominant position in key industries, such as automobiles, electronic components, digital cameras and machine tools, and is revising its manufacturing-based STI model by stimulating more industry-university partnerships. Indeed, the ratio of GERD to GDP in Japan climbed from 3.40%  to 3.67% in 2007,, reflecting industry’s growing awareness of the importance of R&D. This funding is all the more important in that the government is reining in its own R&D spending, which fell from 0.70% in 2002 to 0.64% in 2007.

 Japan also has a growing pool of researchers; their number rose by 9.3% between 2003 and 2008 to 827 291. The number of female researchers has also been growing, but is still low compared to other countries. The goal is for 25% of researchers to be females, but the share was still only around 13% in 2008, compared to 11.2% in 2003. Moreover, exacerbated by Japan’s shrinking young population, the number of PhD students is falling off rapidly, enrolments having dropped since 2004.

             Southeast Asia and Oceania is home to some of the world’s richest developed economies and some of the world’s poorest, with science and technology capacities, priorities and output varying correspondingly. The global economic recession has had a varying impact on the region. Australia, for instance, managed to avoid a recession, thanks to comparatively sound financial structures in the economy and the continued high demand for commodities from China and India. In other countries, the global recession has had little impact on science simply because these countries accord a low priority to science, among them Cambodia, Fiji and Thailand. In Singapore, the global recession has led to a tighter focus on the development of S&T. One feature common to the region is the growing priority accorded to climate change-related research and renewable energy.

 Singapore is now the region’s fastest-growing investor in R&D, with GERD having climbed from 1.9% to 2.5% of GDP between 2000 and 2007. GERD per capita (purchasing power parity US $ 1342) now outstrips that for Japan and the USA and is double that of the UK. Singapore aims to become a regional and world hub for biomedical research and ICTs. To this end, it has clustered key research agencies into two specialized hubs. Of note is that, even though Singapore is building close links between public-funded research and business, it still maintains a strong focus on basic research.  A policy of nurturing local and global talent by offering them globally competitive salaries has led to an explosion in the number of full-time equivalent researchers per million population: from 4398 in 2002, their number had swelled to 6 088 per million population by 2007. For comparison, the ratio in the USA in 2006 was 4 663.

            Australia has likewise intensified its R&D effort: the GERD/GDP ratio rose from 1.5% to 2.1% of GDP between 2000 and 2006, driven largely by the. private sector (52.5% of the country’s total R&D effort in 2002 and 58.3% in 2006). This trend was fuelled by the commodities boom driven largely by China and India. By nurturing mining-related R&D, the boom had the knock-on effect of pushing up business investment in R&D in Australia. Similarly, in Malaysia, business investment in R&D rose from 52.5% of the total in 2002 to 84.7% in 2006, stimulating a rise in the number of researchers (from 295 to 372 per million population between 2002 and 2006) and scientific publications: from 805 papers recorded in the Science Citation Index in 2000, their number had leapt to 2712 by 2008. In terms of the output of business R&D, Malaysia registered half as many patents as New Zealand with the United States Patents and Trademark Office in 2001 but had moved ahead of New Zealand by 2007.

The UNESCO report also devotes a chapter to Iran. If high oil receipts in recent years have been a boon for Iranian science, they have also divorced science from socio-economic needs. Iran’s oil reserves are second only to those of Saudi Arabia. This can serve as a disincentive for innovation, as it ‘prevents a strong relationship from developing between science and wealth’. As much as 75% of all R&D in Iran is government-funded. The GERD/GDP ratio has only risen slightly in recent years, standing at 0.67% in 2006, compared to 0.55% seven years earlier. However, the higher education sector is expanding massively: 81 000 students graduated in 2009, compared to 10 000 nine years earlier. Interestingly, the proportion of female students in higher education has risen rapidly from 45% in 2000 to 52% in 2007 and more than 65% in 2009, according to preliminary data.  The report observes that ‘policy-makers need to acknowledge the changing roles of men and women in Iranian society by facilitating career opportunities for women.’

            “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,” says UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, in her Foreword to the Report. “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 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 Science Report was written by a team of international experts. It 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, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Turkey and USA). The previous UNESCO science reports were published in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2005.

<- Back to: All news
Back to top