New NSF S&E Report Shows America Leads as China Rapidly Advances Global Position in S&T

Jan 26, 2018

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently released its Science and Engineering Indicators 2018 report. It explains that while the U.S. remains the leader in science and technology, China is rapidly catching up in a number of important ways. Since 2000, China has increased R&D spending at an accelerated rate, roughly 18 percent a year, focusing on development over basic and applied research. By contrast, U.S. R&D investment has only averaged 4 percent growth per year, and has declined precipitously in key areas, including renewable and nuclear energy technologies.

R&D spending in the U.S. totals $495.1 billion in 2015 with $355 billion of that total from business investment.  U.S. R&D investment has averaged 1.4 percent growth over the last seven years, slightly behind inflation adjusted GDP growth. The trend reflects a path of decline in the federally funded R&D-to-GDP ratio since 2010, and the lingering effects of global economic recession on R&D investment.  The fall in U.S. public R&D investment between 2011 and 2014 resulted from steep declines in renewables (26 percent) and nuclear energy (32 percent).  In renewables, solar funding plunged 71 percent to $0.1 billion.  Bright spots of public R&D investment in renewable energy included expenditures on biofuels, which rose 41 percent to reach $0.5 billion, and funding for energy efficiency technologies, which rose 40 percent to reach $1.3 billion. 

By comparison, China’s R&D spending totaled $408.8 billion in 2015 with a R&D-to-GDP ratio of 2.1 percent, bringing China to second place in global performance by surpassing European Union investment of $386 billion.  China’s rapid growth also applies to its workforce and citations in technical papers. As NSF Head France Cordova summed up, “We are involved in a global race for knowledge. We may be the innovation leader today, but other countries are rapidly gaining ground.”

Internationally, the science and technology scene is highly collaborative, with countries focusing their research efforts on different areas. The report notes that the US, EU, and Japan are focusing their efforts more on the medical and biological sciences, while India and China are focused on engineering.

This year’s report includes detailed analysis of early state private financing of sustainable energy technologies, generation capacity, patents and public R&D expenditures in sustainable energy technologies. The United States attracted the most venture capital and private equity investment in early-stage sustainable energy of any country ($3.5 billion in 2016).  However, China attracted $2.2 billion, a record high and huge jump from the $0.5 billion investment in 2015. China leads the world in attracting later-stage private investment in sustainable energy technologies with a global share of 33 percent, followed by the EU (25 percent) and the United States (18 percent). 

The full report is available at: https://nsf.gov/nsb/sei/index.jsp