Research and collaboration in the new geography of science.

Author:Adams, Jonathan
Position::China - Report


This report is part of a series launched by Thomson Reuters to inform policymakers about the changing landscape and dynamics of the global research base.

Previous Global Research Reports have examined Brazil and India, two constituents of the so-called "BRIC" group of nations, the others being Russia and China, that are beginning to build on their vast resources and potential in becoming significant players in the world economy. As their influence becomes felt economically so their impact also becomes apparent in research and innovation. That impact is changing the world map of research: it creates a new geography of science. Here, we turn our attention to the stunning growth and global impact of research in China.

Since the Chinese economic reform started in 1978, China has emerged from a poor developing country to become the second-largest economy in the world after the United States of America. Already, more than half of the nation's technologies, including atomic energy, space science, high-energy physics, biology, computer science, and information technology, have reached or are close to a recognizable international level of achievement. In space science, for example, the successful launch in October 2003 of the "Shenzhou V" manned spacecraft made China the third country to master manned spaceflight technology. The 'Moon Probe' project started in February 2004 forecasts that China will soon launch unmanned probes to the moon and is targeted to gather moon soil samples before 2020.

China's Gross Expenditure on R&D (GERD) increased rapidly between 1995 and 2006, whether measured in current or constant prices. It was maintained at just under 1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during a period when China's GDP was growing at a phenomenal speed. Data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that China now ranks third worldwide in volume of GERD, just behind the USA and Japan but ahead of individual member states of the EU. (1)

The annual average growth rate for GERD in China in the decade to 2005 has therefore been impressive, at only slightly less than 18%. This rate is much higher than that recorded in the OECD countries and China is now the largest contributor to GERD in non-OECD countries. (2)

Since the 1980s, China has formulated a series of national programs for science and technology research and development, with the strategic aim of improving the country's competitiveness in science and technology. The Key Technologies Research and Development Program, the 863 Program, and the 973 Program form the main body of state programs for science and technology. The Spark and the Torch programs have been important for raising China's strength in this area.

Institutions of higher education, of course, constitute a key element in China's national innovation system. These institutions have experienced rapid growth in the last 20 years. Statistics from the Ministry of Education show that the current number of students studying in Chinese universities has reached 25 million, a five-fold increase in only nine years. Initiatives targeting higher education such as Project 211, launched in 1995, and Project 985, launched in 1998, aim at cultivating a high-level elite for national economic and social development strategies. Currently, China has more than 1,700 standard institutions of higher education, and about 6% of them are Project 211 institutions. Such schools take on the responsibility of training four-fifths of doctoral students, two-thirds of graduate students, half of students abroad, and one-third of undergraduates. These institutions offer 85% of the State's key subjects, hold 96% of the State's key laboratories, and utilize 70% of scientific research funding. (3)

This is a powerful force for knowledge development, exploitation and innovation.


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