China’s science enterprise challenging US leadership

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Countries in south and east Asia are increasingly challenging the science and technology leadership of the US and other nations, according to new data released by the US National Science Board (NSB). Although the NSB found that the US remains the top investor in R&D, and produces the most advanced degrees in science and engineering, as well as high impact scientific publications, the board determined that south-east, south and east Asia now accounts for 40% of global R&D, with China leading the pack.

China ramped up its R&D investments between 2003 and 2013 at an average of 19.5% annually, greatly exceeding that of the US, the NSB notes. The board’s new 2016 Science and Engineering Indicators show that China is now the second-largest investor in R&D, accounting for 20% of global R&D, compared with the US’s 27%. 

The number of students earning degrees in China has grown faster than in major developed nations, rising more than 300% between 2000 and 2012. In particular, science and engineering degrees account for 49% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in China, compared to 33% in the US. More science or engineering degrees are awarded in China than any other country. 

Students in China earned about 23% of the world’s science and engineering degrees in 2012, compared to 12% in the EU and 9% in the US. The NSB notes that the US continues to award the largest number of science and engineering doctorates and remains the ‘destination of choice’ for internationally mobile students.

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