National Science Board Briefs Congress on Science and Engineering Indicators

February 16, 2018

The National Science Board (NSB), which oversees NSF policies and serves as an independent advisory body to the President and Congress on science, released its Science and Engineering (S&E) Indicators 2018  report on January 18, 2018.  The S&E report is issued every two years, and provides a broad picture of how the United States compares with the global community on various S&E indicators.

This year’s report shows that the United States continues to be a global leader in many S&E indicators, including its investments in research and development (R&D), and the awarding of advanced degrees in S&E each year. However, the business sector has primarily led the growth in R&D in the United States in recent years, with federal government funding on the decline and less stable since the recession. In addition, while the United States is currently the leader in overall R&D expenditures, other countries such as China have seen a much higher growth in R&D intensity, the percentage of their GDP that a country invests in R&D, in recent years.  The exponential growth of China and other Southeast Asian countries in developing their S&T capabilities in recent years has meant that global leadership has been shifting in an area where the United States, Western Europe, and Japan have been the traditional leaders. Furthermore, the growth in S&T investment in these countries has meant that the number of international students who are choosing to stay and work in the U.S. after receiving their advanced degrees is on the decline.

While the United States continues to remain a leader in many areas of science and technology, the report highlights several trends that need to be addressed in order to ensure that we continue to see growth of our economy and scientific workforce in an increasingly competitive global climate. In a stark assessment of where the U.S. stands, Dr. Maria Zuber, NSB Chair and Vice President for Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stated that “by the end of 2018, China will pass us in gross expenditures in R&D.”

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