Friday, July 01, 2005

Is China the Next R&D Superpower?

From Electronic Business: Is China the next R&D superpower?

"Fewer Americans are earning doctoral degrees in science and engineering, 25,509 in 2001 (the last year for which comparative figures are available), versus 27,243 in 1996. And American governmental spending on R&D in the physical sciences, math and engineering has slipped from 0.25 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1970 to 0.16 percent in 2003, according to the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America (ASTRA). Meanwhile, China is steaming in the opposite direction. China nearly doubled its output of science and engineering Ph.D.s between 1996 and 2001, to 8,153. And in the six years between 1997 and 2002, national and local governmental spending on research in China doubled, to approximately $9.9 billion. On top of that, multinational corporations have been racing to set up research centers in the country and China's own industrial titans are now plunging into R&D, realizing they have to have their own technology to compete in global markets."

"China's scientific rise may seem sudden, but it's not. "China is now poised for a technological takeoff because of a whole set of policies and reforms that have been put into place over the last 20 years," says Denis Fred Simon, a specialist in Chinese science and technology policy at the Levin Graduate Institute of the State University of New York, in New York City. China had built its scientific infrastructure on a socialist model in which scientists had lifetime employment, regardless of research output.
But starting in 1985, the country set out to create a more competitive, merit-driven system that would respond to market needs. The country turned the applied research labs affiliated with the various ministries into enterprises that have to turn discoveries into marketable products or find corporate sponsors for their research. Basic research has been concentrated in the top universities and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a network of 85 institutes spread around the country. Research funding and promotions are heavily dependent on a researcher's output of scientific papers and patents. "One thing China has gotten right is the incentives for researchers," says Lan Xue, associate dean of the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University. "


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