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S&E indicators show shifting trends in global research

Industries relying heavily on technology and knowledge accounted for more than a quarter of world's gross domestic product in 2012, according to the National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators 2014 report. This finding and other trends described in the report highlight the effects of investment, education and innovation in science and technology on the global movement toward knowledge-intensive economies.

Knowledge- and technology-intensive industries include high technology manufacturing, such as aerospace and pharmaceuticals, as well as knowledge-based services in business, communications and health. These industries make up a greater percentage of the United States' economy—40 percent of the gross domestic product—than that of any other large, developed country.

Investment in science and technology supports innovation, which drives knowledge- and technology-intensive industries. In 2011, the U.S. accounted for 30 percent of the total global investment in research and development—making it the largest investor—followed by the European Union (22 percent), China (15 percent) and Japan (10 percent). However, over the previous decade, both the U.S. and E.U. have seen their shares of global research and development decline while the share from Southeast and South Asia has increased.

As skilled workers are necessary in these industries, the NSF report also includes data on degrees in science and engineering. In 2010, students obtained about 5.5 million science and engineering degrees worldwide. From 2001 to 2010, the percentage of first university degrees in science and engineering remained stable in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Germany. These percentages decreased in China, Japan and South Korea during the same time.

However, the number degrees conferred in a country do not necessarily correlate with the future skills of its workforce as many students study outside their home countries. The U.S., followed by the United Kingdom, Australia, France and Germany, are the top destinations for internationally mobile students pursing undergraduate and graduate education.

The effect of this influx of students, and ultimately educated graduates, on research output as measured by journal citations and patents is not clear cut.

The U.S. and E.U. still lead the world in top citations (percentage of articles among the world's top one percent of cited articles) and successful patent applications, however, other nations show marked growth. While China remains below the U.S. and E.U. in the percentage of articles in the top one percent, their percentage increased six-fold between 2002 and 2012.

In 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, Japan surpassed the E.U. in number of patents it received. These data suggest an increase in research technological capabilities outside the E.U. and U.S., which may stem from foreign students, educated in the E.U. and U.S., returning to their home countries to work.

Related links

Science and Engineering Indicators Digest 2014

WHO country economic classifications