Budgetary pressures on EU, Japan and the US have positioned China to be the highest R&D funder by around 2019, OECD says

China is on track to become the world’s top R&D spender before the end of the decade if current trends continue, according to a new report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Pressures on R&D budgets in the EU, Japan and the US are threatening the science and technology research, patent applications and scientific publications of those countries, and positioning China to be the biggest R&D spender by around 2019.

Annual growth in R&D spending across OECD countries, including the EU, US, Japan and Canada, was 1.6% over 2008–2012, which is half the rate that it was from 2001–2008. Meanwhile, China’s R&D spending doubled between 2008 and 2012. In 2012, the gross domestic expenditure was $257 billion (£164 billion) in China, $397 billion in the US, $282 billion in the EU and $134 billion in Japan.

The report emphasises that the OECD’s share in global R&D spending has fallen from 90% to 70% in the last decade. China’s R&D intensity is now on par with that of the EU and this trend is driven by China’s ‘long-term commitment’ to science, technology and innovation. In addition, China has set a target for R&D spending of 2.5% of GDP by 2020.

However, the report also concludes that Asia has been the source of an ‘unprecedented migration’ of talent towards the OECD area, with Asian immigrants being on average more skilled than other migrants and, for newcomers, even more skilled than OECD nationals. Nevertheless, the OECD points to bibliometric indicators that show China, Korea and Taiwan are now also the main destinations for scientists from the US and that these countries experienced a net brain gain over the period 1996–2011.