According to statistics assembled by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) the gap in research and development (R&D) funding between the United States and China is closing fast, despite modest increases in US funding since 2000.
The United States is increasingly “seen globally as an important leader rather than the uncontested leader” in science and engineering.
The agency said in the latest edition of its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report, which compiles metrics on the state of science and engineering in the country.
Report said that research and development spending in the United States grew at an average of 4.3% per year from 2000 to 2017 which the NSF released on 15 January. But spending in China grew by more than 17% per year during the same period. Several other countries, including Germany and South Korea, also increased their spending at rates that outstripped that of the United States, but they remain solidly behind the two global leaders in terms of total funding. The United States accounted for 25% of the US$2.2 trillion spent on R&D worldwide in 2017, and China made up 23%.
Chair of the National Science Board’s science and engineering policy committee Julia Philips said during a press briefing that Preliminary data from 2019 suggest that China has already surpassed the United States in research and development spending. The board oversees the NSF and produces the Indicators reports.
Computer scientist at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts Diane Souvaine said that the emergence of other innovation power houses can only be good and new knowledge benefits everyone.
He noted that the United States still leads the world in many important metrics, such as total investment in research and development, proportion of highly cited publications and enrollment of internationally mobile students.
An economist at New York University Julia Lane said that objects to the NSF’s use of spending as the preeminent metric for measuring the strength of the US science and engineering community.
she said policymakers should be thinking about whether the dollars are being spent wisely instead of worrying about spending.
She also said that the continued attraction of foreign-born students and workers to the United States is “a good signal that good science is being done here”.
Report offers a clear road map of steps that the United States needs to take to remain competitive in global science and engineering. Further investment in science, technology, engineering and maths education.