With China’s Rise, the U.S. is No Longer the Uncontested R&D Leader



For decades the United States has been the clear global leader in research and development.  A new report by the the National Science Board indicates that this is no longer the case.  The report, the State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2020  is mandated by Congress and provides information on the state of the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) enterprise over time and within a global context.  The major takeaway from the report has been the sharp rise of R&D investments in China relative to a slower or even declining R&D levels in the United States depending on the category.  For example, the share of U.S. R&D funded by the federal government has declined.  This means a relative drop in critical early-stage basic research, particularly at colleges and universities and government laboratories.

According to the report, global research and development expenditures have more than tripled since 2000, growing from $722 billion in 2000 to $2.2 trillion in 2017, fueled largely by growth in China. The U.S. and China together accounted for nearly half of all research and development spending — 25 and 23 percent, respectively — in 2017.

In the U.S., federal spending for research and development has increased since 2000, but the share of research and development funded by the federal government — as opposed to businesses or other entities — declined, from 25 percent in 2000 to 22 percent in 2017. Among higher education institutions — which perform the largest amount of basic research, of which the federal government is the primary funder — the share of research and development funded by federal sources declined from 57 percent in 2000 to 51 percent in 2017. ​

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