Go back

R&D spend below OECD average, finds report

The UK’s gross expenditure on R&D, measured as a share of GDP, is lower than that of several key competitor countries and below the OECD average, a report has found.

The report, “International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base 2011”, was compiled by Elsevier for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. It compared the UK’s research performance to that of several other successful research nations, including Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan and the US.

The report compared the “research intensity” of different counties, which is gross expenditure on R&D as a share of GDP—a product also known as GERD.

In 2010, it found, the UK’s GERD was 1.82 per cent. This was below the average of G8 countries (2.39 per cent) and OECD countries (2.69 per cent).

This corresponded to a number-five ranking among G8 nations and a 10th place among 21 EU countries with available data. It placed the UK 16th among 38 OECD countries.

Nevertheless, the report found that the UK was a “clear leader” on citations per unit spend on GERD.

Although the UK has improved each of the rankings by one point compared to corresponding data in 2006, its world share of GERD fell from 3.7 per cent in 2006 to 3.0 per cent in 2010. China’s share rose from 8.9 per cent to 13.3 per cent in the same period.

“Inability to sustain R&D spending at levels comparable to the global average may also have consequences for the UK’s future research performance relative to other countries,” reads the report.

The report said that part of the reason for the UK’s “relatively low” intensity could be its “longstanding emphasis on university-centred research”. The UK’s higher education R&D, as a proportion of the R&D intensity, was at almost 28 per cent, which was greater than all comparative countries except Canada. It was also significantly higher than the G8 average.

The report also showed that the UK was a highly effective research country, generating more articles and citations per researcher than any other competitor country.

However, it warned, this leadership position could be threatened by the country’s “declining share of researchers globally, and by its declining share of global spending on research”.

It also said that researchers in the UK had reported that they struggled to find top-quality post-graduate students. “Inability to develop, attract and retain enough researchers may have negative consequences for national R&D capacity,” it said.

Science minister David Willetts is expected to comment on the report in his Gareth Roberts Memorial Lecture at the Royal Society of Medicine on 19 October.

“A strong research base is vital to driving growth and innovation. This report highlights both the quality of our researchers and also the ability of our world-class institutions to attract the very best talent to this country,” he will say, according to a statement.

“We are committed to maintaining this leading position and building on the UK’s fantastic record of academic and scientific achievement. That’s exactly why we protected the £4.6 billion science and research budget and have invested nearly an additional £300 million in science capital projects over the past year,” he will add.