UIS global database updated with reference year data for 2017.

The UIS has published updated data on the human and financial resources devoted to research and experimental development (R&D) for 162 countries and territories. This includes the results of the UIS 2018 R&D Statistics Survey, as well as new statistics obtained from its partners, notably the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat) and the Ibero-American Network of Science and Technology Indicators (RICYT).

The release includes the final data for the 2017 reference year and time series data for two global indicators used to monitor Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 9.5. With SDG 9, countries have pledged to “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”. In particular, SDG Target 9.5 calls upon them to encourage innovation, upgrade technological capabilities, and substantially increase the number of researchers, as well as public and private spending on R&D. The UIS is responsible for producing both of the global monitoring indicators for this target:

According to the data, the Top 5 R&D performers in relative terms (R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP for the last year available) are: Israel and the Republic of Korea (4.6%) being the world leaders, followed by Switzerland (3.4%), Sweden (3.3%) and Japan (3.2%). The ranking changes when viewed according to absolute terms, where large economies dominate. In absolute terms (in billions of PPP dollars), the top five countries where significant R&D investments were made in 2017 were: the United States (543), China (496), Japan (176), Germany (127) and the Republic of Korea (90).   

Regions have been setting their own spending targets for some time. The most prominent is the European Union (EU) target to raise overall R&D investment to 3% of GDP by 2020. Four EU countries have already reached this target: Sweden (3.3%), Austria (3.2%), Denmark (3.1%) and Germany (3.0%).

The African Union has set a target of 1% of GDP invested on R&D, but UIS data show that only three sub-Saharan African countries are close to this target: South Africa, Kenya and Senegal (around 0.8% in all three countries).

In North America, the United States and Canada spent 2.8% and 1.6% of GDP on R&D respectively (2017). In Latin America and the Caribbean, Brazil reported the highest level of R&D investment for 2016 (1.3%), followed by Argentina, Mexico and Costa Rica (0.5%). The top investors in other regions are: Georgia (0.3%) in Central Asia, the Republic of Korea (4.6%) in East Asia, India (0.6%) in South and West Asia, and United Arab Emirates (1.0%) in the Arab States.

Figure 1. Research and development (R&D) expenditure as a proportion of GDP, latest year available year

A large proportion of R&D expenditure goes towards the wages and salaries of the R&D personnel (researchers, technicians and support staff engaged in R&D). Reflecting this, the figures for the indicator “Researchers (in full-time equivalent) per million inhabitants” follow a similar pattern as the trend in R&D expenditure but there are differences.

The following countries lie on top in the ranking when share of researchers in relation to the total population of countries are considered (per million): Israel (8,250), Denmark (7,897), Sweden (7,593), the Republic of Korea (7,514) and Singapore (6,730). However, in terms of absolute numbers (the number of researchers in millions), China (1.74 million), the United States (1.37 million), Japan (676 thousand), Germany (414 thousand) and the Russian Federation (411 thousand) dominate.

The percentage of female researchers based on headcounts is less than one-third of total researchers worldwide (only about 29.3% in 2016). Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest share of female researchers (at 48.2% and 45.1% respectively). In contrast, the share falls to 18.5% in South and West Asia. But there are some exceptions at the country level. Women researchers outnumber men in: Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Panama, Thailand, North Macedonia, Tunisia and Venezuela.

Figure 2. Researchers (in full-time equivalents) per 1 million inhabitants, latest year available

The release also includes updated data for a wide range of other R&D indicators and breakdowns, such as R&D expenditure disaggregated by sector of performance, source of funds, field of R&D, type of costs and type of R&D. Also included are data on researchers broken down by sex, level of qualifications, field of R&D, as well as data on researchers by age groups and seniority grade.

The updated data, including time series data, are available in the UIS database. They are also featured in the United Nations Statistics Division’s (UNSD) SDG indicator database as well as in numerous indices, databases and reports, including UIS R&D Fact Sheets.

Visit the UIS database for indicators about:

Explore the data with our interactive tools:

UNESCO eAtlas of Research and Experimental Development
The R&D eAtlas makes it easy to visualise global and regional trends for more than 75 indicators before drilling down to country-level data. The interactive maps and charts can be shared, downloaded and embedded in websites, blogs and presentations.

How Much Does Your Country Invest in R&D?
This tool provides a global perspective on spending patterns, as well as time series data on regional and country-level commitments to R&D, in absolute terms and relative to GDP.