OECD’s science, technology and industry scoreboard 2007

oecd.jpgEvery two years the OECD publishes a Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard. Yesterday it released its 2007 assessment of trends of the macroeconomic elements intended to stimulate innovation: knowledge, globalization, and their impacts on economic performance.

GlobalHigherEd has taken a look at the major findings of the report and highlights them below. These indicators of ‘innovation’ presumed to lead to ‘economic growth’ reveal a particular set of assumptions at work . For instance:

  • Investment in ‘knowledge’ (by which the OECD means software and education) has increased in most OECD countries.
  • Expenditure on R&D (as a % of GDP) in Japan (3.3%) and the EU (1.7%) picked up in 2005 following a drop in 2004. However, in the US expenditure in R&D declined slightly (to 2.6% in 2005 from 2.7% in 2001). China is the big feature story here, with spending on R&D growing even faster than its economy – by 18% per year over the period 2000-2005.
  • Countries like Switzerland, Belgium and English speaking countries (US, UK etc) have a large number of foreign doctoral students…with the US having the largest number. About 10,000 foreign citizens obtained a doctorate in S&E in the US in 2004/5 and represented 38% of S&E doctorates awarded.
  • Governments in OECD countries are putting into place policy levers to promote R&D – such as directing government funds to R&D through tax relief.
  • Universities are being encouraged to patent their innovations, and while the overall share of patents filed by universities has been relatively stable, this is increasing in selected OECD countries – France, Germany and Japan.
  • European companies (EU27) finance 6.4% of R&D performed by public institutions and universities compared to 2.7% in the US and 2% in Japan.
  • China now ranks 6th worldwide in their share of scientific publications and has raised its share of triadic patents from close to 0% in 1995 to 0.8% in 2005, though the US, Europe and Japan remain at the forefront. However, the US and the emerging economies (India, China, Israel, Singapore) focus upon high tech industries (computers, pharmaceuticals), whilst continental Europe focuses on medium technologies (automobiles, chemicals).
  • In all OECD countries inventive activities are more geographically concentrated – in an innovation cluster – as in Silicon Valley and Tokyo.
  • There has been a steady diffusion of ICT across all OECD countries – though take up if broadband in households varies, with Italy and Ireland showing only 10-15% penetration.
  • Across all OECD countries, use of the internet has become standard in businesses with over 10 employees.

These highlights from the Scoreboard reflects a number of things. First, it is a particular (and very narrow) way of looking at the basis for developing knowledge societies. Knowledge, as we can see above, is reduced to software and education to develop human capital.

Second, there is a particular way of framing science and technology and its relationship to development – as in larger levels of expenditure on R&D, rates of scientific publications, use of ICTs.

Third, it is assumed that the combination of inventions, patents and innovations will be the necessary boost to economic growth. However, this approach privileges intellectual property rights over and above other forms of invention and innovation which might contribute to the intellectual commons, as in open source software.

Finally, we should reflect on the purpose the Scoreboard. Not only is a country’s ‘progress’ (or ‘lack of’) then used by politicians and policymakers to argue for boosting investment and performance in particular areas of science and technology, as in recruiting more foreign students into graduate programs, or the development of incentives such as the promise of an EU Blue Card to ensure the brainpower stays in the country, but the Scorecard is a pedagogical tool. That is, a country ‘learns’ about itself in relation to other players in the global economy and is given a clear message about the overall direction it should head in if it wants to be a globally competitive knowledge-based economy.

Susan Robertson