The United States remains the global leader in supporting science and technology research and development, but only by a slim margin that could soon be overtaken by rapidly increasing Asian investments in knowledge-intensive economies, according to a report by the National Science Board, the policymaking body for the National Science Foundation. The report comments on the overall status of the science, engineering and technology workforce, education efforts and economic activity in the United States and abroad.
According to the Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 report, the largest global S&T gains occurred in the so-called "Asia-10:" China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, as those countries integrate S&T into economic growth. Between 1999 and 2009, for example, the United States' share of global research and development (R&D) dropped from 38 percent to 31 percent, whereas it grew from 24 percent to 35 percent in the Asia region during the same time. In China alone, R&D growth increased a stunning 28 percent in a single year (2008-2009), propelling it past Japan and into second place behind the United States.
"This information clearly shows we must re-examine long-held assumptions about the global dominance of the American science and technology enterprise," said NSF director Subra Suresh. "And we must take seriously new strategies for education, workforce development and innovation in order for the United States to retain its international leadership position."
Suresh oversees NSF's $7 billion budget, which is awarded to the federal agency by Congress and funds basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering, including some 15 percent of federally supported basic research conducted at America's colleges and universities. The NSF has also launched a number of initiatives designed to better position the United States globally and at home by enhancing international collaborations, improving education and establishing new partnerships between NSF-supported researchers and those in industry.
"Over the last decade, the world has changed dramatically," said Jos??Â«-Marie Griffiths, chair of the NSB committee that oversees production of the report. "It's now a world with very different actors who have made advancement in science and technology a top priority. And many of the troubling trends we're seeing are now very well established."
Among the NSF's initiatives is Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI), which fosters interaction among scientists, engineers and educators around the globe. A platform for building long-term research and education collaborations between the United States and countries such as Finland--a world leader in wireless technology--SAVI collaborations are also underway between U.S. teams and researchers in India, Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
The NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, a public-private partnership, connects NSF-funded scientific research with the technological, entrepreneurial and business communities to help create a stronger national ecosystem for innovation. NSF, the Deshpande Foundation and the Kauffman Foundation are founding members, along with a national network of advisers and partnering institutions.
"NSF's support of fundamental research, which propels intellectual curiosity in every branch of science and engineering, and ignites the passion to uncover the inner workings of nature, is more precious now than ever before," Suresh said. "At the same time, scientific discoveries from fundamental research have their widest impact when they engender innovations, products and processes that transform society and help solve global challenges."