Analyzing and participating in the race for global dominance of science & technology/research & development

The National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States is one of the institutions that is intensely involved in mapping out the changing global geographies of investment in science and technology (S&T), and in research and development (R&D). Interest in these themes is to be expected: the NSF was, after all, created (in 1950) “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…“.

Times have changed since 1950, of course, and both S&T and R&D now need to be increasingly analyzed at a global scale, with new ‘challengers’ to US hegemony, but also new research practices that stretch the knowledge production process out across global space. See our recent entries, for example, on the dependence of the US intellectual property regime on an open immigration system, our entry titled ‘Battling for market share 1: the ‘Major Players’ and international student mobility’, our entry about the dependence of key (read geoeconomically important) fields of study in the UK higher education system on foreign students, and numerous graphic feeds we have been creating (e.g., the Rand Corporation’s “research footprints” of US “competitors” in science and technology).

Making sense of both structural change, policy change in the West (in the jostling for ‘market share’), and the ways in which Asia is framed (in a socioeconomic imaginary sense) by both the US and Europe, is an important task for anyone interested in the global higher ed scene. One of the starting points to do so is the NSF’s Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS). Their most recent report is Asia’s Rising Science and Technology Strength: Comparative Indicators for Asia, the European Union, and the United States (August 2007), from which these graphics are taken.


As the press release to the report puts it:

Heavy investments in science and technology during the 1990s by some Asian nations are paying notable economic dividends in high-tech areas important to the United States, according to a recently released report by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Since the mid-1990, Asia’s national investment in research and development (R&D) as a share of the total value of goods and services produced grew faster than in the United States or the European Union, according to NSF’s Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS), titled Asia’s Rising Science and Technology Strength.

Asia’s R&D activity may have surpassed the European Union in 2002, and by 2003, was nearly 10 percent greater. According to these data, in 2003, Asia’s R&D investment may have been as much as 80 percent that of the United States, largely reflecting Chinese growth. While precise comparisons are technically problematical, there is little doubt about China’s rapid advancement into the group of leading R&D nations.

“There are a number of reasons the findings are important to the United States,” said Lawrence Rausch, SRS senior analyst and project director. “Improved science and technological capacity in Asian countries create new market opportunities for U.S. business. In addition, it can lead to new opportunities for U.S. researchers and businesses to collaborate overseas.”


The report, which is well worth reading, is both an analytical document, but also a document designed to help push US policy-makers and politicians to become both more concerned about rising knowledge production capacity in Asia (especially China), and at the same time in a direction that might enhance S&T/R&D linkages with Asia (including China, and countries with strong ties to China). One example of the linkage drive is the NSF’s relatively new East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (EAPSI) initiative.

It is any wonder then that the UK is also pushing in the same direction, though in a less analytical sense for a range of reasons. For example the UK has been supporting the establishment of institutional linkages via the establishment of university campuses in Asia, visiting scholar programmes (e.g., the British Academy/ESRC Chinese Visiting Fellowships), and now with respect to greater institutional representation in Asia. On October 30 Research Councils UK, for example, announced the establishment of their first office outside of Europe. The RCUK Office in China has three “strategic tasks”:

  • to improve knowledge about each country’s research systems and strengths, via a dedicated website;
  • to identify the scope for closer cooperation between the UK Research Councils and the Chinese research support agencies; and
  • to develop a programme of activities aimed at lowering the barriers to international research collaboration.


This development should be situated in the formal international strategy that Research Councils UK published in July 2007.

GlobalHigherEd will be tracking these developments over time. For the time being, though, readers of our blog are advised to bookmark these NSF Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS) sites (some of which have RSS feed functions) for they demonstrate the better analytical capacity of US agencies versus those in the UK as we seek to shed more light on the competition taking place on the global higher ed landscape, especially with respect to Asia:

Kris Olds

One thought on “Analyzing and participating in the race for global dominance of science & technology/research & development

  1. Pingback: Autonomous foundations and the reduction of barriers to innovation in higher education « GlobalHigherEd

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