WASHINGTON – Asian rivals are quickly closing the gap with the U.S. in supporting science and engineering investment as U.S. high-tech companies shift more of their R&D overseas, a new report warns.
The survey of global competitiveness in science and engineering R&D released by the National Science Foundation this week found that China alone boosted R&D spending by a “stunning” 28 percent between 2008 and 2009, moving it past Japan into second place in terms of R&D investment behind the U.S. By contrast, NSF found that U.S. investment in R&D over the last decade has declined as a percentage of global investment from 38 percent to 31 percent. Asian nations now account for about 31 percent of global R&D spending.
China is among an emerging group, the so-called “Asian 10” that are significantly increasing science and engineering R&D investment. The group also includes India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines Singapore South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.
NSF’s findings show “we must re-examine long-held assumptions about the global dominance of the American science and technology enterprise," NSF Director Subra Suresh said in releasing the report, Science and Engineering Indicators 2012
. "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 report found that the U.S. science and engineering workforce grew to 5.4 million workers in 2009. But the rate of U.S. technology job growth over the last decade has slowed to 1.4 percent compared with the previous two decades.
Half of U.S. workers with science or engineering degrees earned $73,290 or more in 2010, the study also found, more than double the median income ($33,840) of the total U.S. workforce.
Since 1995, the number of workers worldwide engaged in R&D has been growing. NSF found that the number of researchers has tripled in China during this period while South Korea has doubled the number of researchers.
While the U.S. and the European Union have registered steady growth in R&D, it has not kept pace with China or South Korea, the science agency said.
An ominous sign of a possible U.S. “brain drain” is found in 2009 statistics for R&D employment. NSF said preliminary data indicate “a substantial shift in the balance between R&D employment by U.S. firms abroad and R&D employment by foreign firms in the U.S.” The agency reported that U.S. multinationals nearly doubled R&D employment overseas between 2004 and 2009. During the same period, domestic R&D employment by these same companies increased by less than 5 percent.
By contrast, the number of researchers employed overseas by U.S. multinationals compared to those employed here by foreign firms had been similar in 2004, NSF noted.
Larger U.S. technology companies (more than 1,000 workers) shipped more R&D jobs overseas than smaller firms. Thirty percent of R&D employment in large companies is based overseas while only 11 percent of researchers at smaller firms were based overseas, according to the NSF study.
Moreover, about 85 percent of R&D employment growth among multinational corporations occurred abroad between 2004 and 2009 while domestic growth in R&D jobs was less than 5 percent. “As a result, the proportion of [multinational corporate] R&D employment located outside the United States went from 16 percent to 27 percent,” NSF found.