SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Comparative Study on Research Policy

A new report by Parimal Patel, with Nick Jagger and Rie Nemoto from FORMAS (The Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning) looks at a number of issues related to research policy and sets out to answer a number of questions in this area:

  • To what extent has government spending on public sector R&D changed over the recent years?
  • Have policies related to grand societal challenges risen in prominence?
  • What are the differences in the structure of public sector research?

Funded by FORMAS, the study makes comparisons between a set of Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway) and a set of international counterparts (USA, the European Union, China, Brazil and India).

Parimal Patel said: “The report highlights different trends in government investments in R&D over the last 13 years, with large growth rates in India and China, modest change in the EU-28, and a decline in the US followed by a small recovery in the most recent years."

The report finds that, in terms of funding the countries can be divided into three groups. This first comprises Sweden, Denmark, Norway, India and China, which have experienced high growth in their public R&D. For the second group of countries, namely Finland, Brazil and the EU-28 as a whole, public R&D expenditures have grown more modestly. The only country in our sample where government expenditures have declined is the USA, where the largest fall was in the period from 2001 to 2008. Since then there has been a modest increase.

The study also reveals that all countries under consideration give prominence to grand societal challenges as high level priorities for innovation in their mission statements. Most also have specific commitments to funding scientific research related to such challenges. However, the analysis of government budgets shows that when it comes to spending decisions the amount of funds allocated to some societal challenges are relatively modest.  The only challenge that is of high relative importance in most countries is health. On the other hand energy and environment are of much lower priority, with the latter declining in terms of the share of funds allocated in a number of countries.

Furthermore, the report finds that the main recipients of public funds for R&D in the 4 Nordic countries and the EU-28 are universities. In Denmark and Sweden they account for more than 80% of total resources. By contrast in the USA, India and China, public research institutes are relatively more important. In the case of the India and China by far the largest proportion of government funds are channelled through Public Research Institutions.

There are differences across countries in the balance of funding between basic and applied research and development. For the USA and India applied research and development are relatively more important and for Norway and China applied research is more prominent. Denmark accords equal priority to both and for Sweden most funds are directed to basic research.


*Image courtesy of Boegh, Flickr

**Image in box courtesy of National Eye Institute, Flickr