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U.S. losing high-tech jobs, R&D dominance to Asia

Ann Bednarz | Jan. 20, 2012
U.S. companies are locating more of their research and development operations overseas, and Asian countries are rapidly increasing investments in their own science and technology economies, the National Science Board (NSB) reported this week.

U.S. companies are locating more of their research and development operations overseas, and Asian countries are rapidly increasing investments in their own science and technology economies, the National Science Board (NSB) reported this week.

While the U.S. remains the global leader in science and technology R&D, that lead is narrowing, asserts NSB, the policymaking body for the National Science Foundation. In particular, 10 countries in Asia -- China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand -- are closing ranks on U.S. leadership in science and technology.

The U.S. share of global R&D expenditures dropped from 38% to 31% between 1999 and 2009, according to NSB's new report, Science and Engineering Indicators 2012. Meanwhile, global R&D share in the Asia region grew from 24% to 35% during the same time frame. Asia's rapid ascent has been driven largely by China, where R&D growth spiked 28% in 2008-2009, landing it in second place behind the U.S.

"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 in a statement. "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."

The U.S. has launched a number of initiatives to remain competitive in global science and engineering -- such as the Obama administration's 2009 Strategy for American Innovation and, more recently, its 2011 Advanced Manufacturing Partnership -- but other governments are likewise motivated to develop their science and technology infrastructures, expand their higher education systems and stimulate indigenous R&D, the NSB report shows.

Among the findings in NSB's Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 report:

* U.S.-based multinational corporations are tapping a broader pool of overseas R&D talent. One indicator is the percentage of U.S. multinational corporations' total R&D that's conducted by their majority-owned overseas affiliates; over the past decade, that has risen from 13% to 16%. In addition, the number of overseas researchers employed by U.S. multinationals nearly doubled from 138,000 in 2004 to 267,000 in 2009. Meanwhile, multinational corporations' R&D employment in the U.S. rose more modestly from 716,000 to 739,000 during the same time period.

* Global R&D expenditures climbed from an estimated $522 billion in 1996 to approximately $1.3 trillion in 2009. Even though the U.S. percentage of global R&D expenditures fell, it remains by far the single largest R&D performing country, with an R&D expenditure of $400 billion in 2009.

* The U.S. accounts for only 4% of engineering degrees awarded globally, compared to China (34%), Japan (5%), and India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand (17% collectively). "The low U.S. share of global engineering degrees in recent years is striking; well above half of all such degrees are awarded in Asia," NSB writes in its report. At the doctorate level, natural science and engineering degrees from universities in China have more than tripled since 2000, to about 26,000 in 2008, exceeding the comparable number of natural science and engineering doctorates awarded in the U.S. [See also: "Should tech pros get an MBA?"] 

 

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