» Number of researchers in developing countries is rising, according to UNESCO study, but women researchers stil...
23.11.2009 -

Number of researchers in developing countries is rising, according to UNESCO study, but women researchers still a minority

The number of researchers, on the rise world-wide, jumped by 56% in developing countries between 2002 and 2007, according to a new study published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). In comparison, their number increased by only 8.6% in developed countries during the same period*.

In five years, the number of researchers in the world rose significantly, from 5.8 to 7.1 million. The greatest gain was made in developing countries: 2.7 million researchers were counted in 2007, versus 1.8 million five years earlier. These countries increased their global share of researchers from 30.3% in 2002 to 38.4%.

The biggest increase was seen in Asia, whose share went up from 35.7% in 2002 to 41.4%. China is mainly responsible for the gain, having gone from 14 to 20% in five years. The increase in Asia occurred at the expense of Europe and the Americas, whose shares went down respectively from 31.9 to 28.4% and from 28.1 to 25.8%.

“The increase in the number of researchers, notably in developing countries, is good news. UNESCO welcomes this development, although the participation of women in science, which UNESCO promotes notably through the l'OREAL-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science, is still too limited,” said Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO.

According to the new UIS study, women represent slightly more than one quarter (29%) of the researchers in the world,** although the average hides numerous regional disparities. The proportion is much larger in Latin America, where 46% of researchers are women. Gender parity has been achieved in five countries: Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Paraguay and Venezuela.

In Asia, women represent only 18% of the number of researchers, with considerable heterogeneity: 18% in South Asia while South East Asian countries reported 40% and most countries in Central Asia around 50%. In Europe, only five countries have attained gender parity: the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova and Serbia. In the Community of Independent States, women’s participation in research is 43%. In Africa, it is estimated at 33%.

At the same time, expenditure on research and development (R&D) is increasing. Globally, the percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) devoted to R&D has gone up significantly in most countries.

In 2007, 1.74% of the world’s GDP was devoted to R&D (1.71% in 2002). While most developing countries invest less than 1% of their GDP in R&D, there are certain exceptions such as China (1.5%) and Tunisia (1%).

The average rate of expenditure in Asia reached 1.6% in 2007, influenced by the top investors: Japan (3.4%), the Republic of Korea (3.5%) and Singapore (2.6%). In contrast, India invested only 0.8% of its GDP in R&D in 2007.

In Europe, the percentage varies from 0.2% in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to 3.5% in Finland and 3.7% in Sweden. In Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland and Switzerland, it is around 2 to 3%.

In Latin America, Brazil is in first place (1%), followed by Chile, Argentina and Mexico.

Expenditure in R&D remains concentrated in industrialized countries: the European Union, the United States and Japan represented almost 70% of global R&D expenditure.

It is also noteworthy that in most developed countries, R&D activities are largely financed by the private sector. In North America, it finances more than 60% of all R&D activities. In Europe, the percentage is 50%. In Latin America and the Caribbean, it is generally between 25 and 50%. In Africa, however, research is financed mostly by the public sector.

These results indicate that many countries are now recognizing the importance of innovation, in the broader sense. “Policy makers seem to realize more and more that innovation is key for economic growth, to the point of setting R&D investment targets,” notes Martin Schaaper, programme specialist at the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, one of the authors of the study. “China is the foremost example of a country setting a target - 2% by 2010 and 2.5% or more by 2020 - and being well on its way to reaching it. Another example is given by the African Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA), which sets a target of 1% of GDP devoted to R&D. At the same time the European Union’s target of 3% by 2010 seems unattainable, considering the insignificant growth - from 1.76% to 1.78% - in five years.”

* These percentages are expressed in absolute terms. In relative terms, expressed in number of researchers per 1000 inhabitants, the percentages are 45% in developing countries and 6.8% in developed countries.

** The data on women come from 121 countries on which data are available. Data are lacking from countries where the number of women researchers is high, such as Australia, Canada, China, the United States and the United Kingdom.

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