Overview of the State of the U.S. S&E Enterprise in a Global Context
Summary and Conclusion
Over the past quarter century, countries have increasingly come to view scientific and technical capabilities as engines of economic growth. Many countries have intensified efforts to build their S&T capabilities in a wide variety of areas and have become part of, and benefit from, the emerging global S&E landscape. Consequently, this landscape has undergone dramatic shifts: traditionally centered around the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, the S&E landscape is now increasingly multipolar. Generally, S&T growth has been faster in the developing than in the developed world, and the historically dominant developed nations have seen their relative share of global S&T activity shrink, even as their absolute activity levels kept rising. China’s rapid, unprecedented, and sustained growth has been accompanied by developments in India, South Korea, and other Asian economies as countries around the world, building on their relative strengths, added to global S&T capabilities. These developments have taken place in the context of an increasingly interconnected world. Capacity building and enhancements in R&D, human capital, global supply chains, and other global infrastructure, along with dramatic changes in communications technologies, have facilitated the interconnected nature and greater international collaboration and competition in S&E activities.
Academic institutions in the developed world continue to be centers of excellence, conducting high-impact S&E research and providing graduate education in S&E to students from across the world. The United States continues to lead in the production of advanced degrees in S&E and high-impact S&E research as evidenced by shares of highly cited publications.
Academic institutions in the developing world have increased their production of graduates with S&E degrees, with China leading the growth in the number of these graduates. R&D expenditures in Asia have also grown rapidly, particularly in China and South Korea. In the United States and the EU, growth has continued but at a slower rate. As a result, China’s R&D expenditures are now second only to those of the United States in annual magnitude. China’s rapid growth in R&D expenditures and in S&E degrees (both at the bachelor’s- and doctoral-degree levels) coincided with growth in S&E publications.
R&D concentration and intellectual property–related activities are increasingly multipolar; several relatively small economies appear to be specializing in S&E, as evidenced by high rates of R&D intensity in countries such as Israel (not shown), South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. Commercial S&E activity has a large concentration in parts of South and East Asia. Although Japan has been declining in some measures of S&E activates related to knowledge creation (such as its share of S&E publications), the country still rates highly in terms of total publications and patents granted. South Korea and Taiwan have experienced rapid growth in patenting and in intellectual property exports.
KTI production and trade account for increasing shares of global output and are closely related to country and regional investment in S&E education and in R&D activity. Production and assembly of high-technology goods have emerged in the developing world, particularly in China, where ICT and pharmaceutical manufacturing have become large shares of global production. Exports of high-technology products are centered in Asia, where China accounts for one-quarter of all such exports, but smaller nations such as Vietnam are rapidly expanding. This production activity, however, often represents the final phase of the global supply chain, where components designed or produced in other countries are transformed into final products, although China is gradually moving up the production value chain as it ramps up its S&E capabilities.
The developed world, particularly the economies of the United States, the EU, and Japan, maintains the bulk of KI commercial services production and exports, the assignment of patents, and receipts for the use of intellectual property. Intellectual property activities, in particular, are concentrated in developed economies, both large and small. These developments reflect S&E components of the global value chain, where different regions contribute to global activity based on relative strengths.
The very nature of developments in S&T—unexpected insights, technological breakthroughs—along with general uncertainties in the broader national and global environment, preclude a simple projection of past trends into the future. In that sense, this Overview presents a snapshot of the world in a particular point in time. However, barring a major dislocation, careful analysis and interpretation of the related indicators presented here allow a realistic understanding of the likely overall direction of the global S&T landscape: dynamic, fast changing, integrated, interdependent, competitive, and tied together by a global infrastructure.