By a wide margin, the US maintains its place at the front of the line when it comes to spending on R&D, as well as its perceived leadership in different areas of research, including healthcare, energy generation and aerospace, the 2011 Global R&D Funding Forecast by Battelle Memorial Institute, found. Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, is a charitable trust dedicated to scientific, educational, technology and community endeavors.
Still, this isn't the time to get cocky. A number of other countries have significantly increased their R&D spending and are gaining ground. China, for instance, boosted its R&D outlays by about 10 percent annually over the past few years. It now accounts for 12.9 percent of global R&D spending, having inched ahead of Japan, which is expected to record 12.1 percent of R&D expenditures this year. Europe's share has slipped from 24.1 percent in 2009 to a forecasted 23.2 percent in 2011.
To be sure, the US is out in front when it comes to R&D spending within both the public and private sectors. It is expected to pony up $400-some billion this year, while Europe will spend $277 billion, and China, $154 billion. However, its leadership position isn't guaranteed. As the report notes, shifts in liquidity, affluence and advanced manufacturing may make it difficult for the US to maintain its place. US R&D is expected to grow by 2.4 percent this year, about equal the global median rate. China, on the other hand, will plow ahead with growth of about nine percent. If the rates of the two countries continue, China outlays will about equal the US' in about 20 years.
Already, China's share of the world's researchers has jumped from 14 percent in 2002 to 19.7 percent in 2007 - just a tad below the 20 percent share of the US. While survey respondents currently rank the US first in perceived technical strength, with a score of 3.3 out of 5.0, the top spot is expected to go to China by 2015, when it earns a score of 3.4. The US score is forecast to drop to 3.1 by then.
While the US should continue to maintain a dominant position within global R&D, its leadership isn't assured. The competition continues to get stronger.