Western Europe Keeps Competitive Pressure On U.S. For Science And Engineering Investment

December 09, 1996

The European Union gives a high priority to investments in science and engineering education and research, according to a newly released Data Brief from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Building first-class laboratories, the brief says, is just one of several ways European investment in civilian research and development (R&D) approaches the U.S. level. Also, Europe is overtaking the U.S. in the production of Ph.D.s in the natural sciences.

"As the capacity to perform R&D expands throughout the world, it is increasingly important for the United States to be knowledgeable about the scientific and technological accomplishments of other world regions," says Jean M. Johnson, a senior analyst and author of the NSF Data Brief. The brief summarizes her forthcoming Division of Science Resources Studies (SRS) report, Human Resources for Science and Technology: The European Region (to be released at the end of January 1997).

The U.S. is still a world leader in R&D, NSF data show, but at least one gap is narrowing: The amount of funds spent on research performed at academic institutions in Western Europe - about $20 billion in 1992 - now equals that spent on U.S. campuses. The total combined R&D investment of Western European countries in 1993 was $103.5 billion, compared to the $137.3 billion spent by the United States. This represents 2.1 percent of Western Europe's combined gross domestic production (GDP), compared to the U.S.'s 2.7 percent.

Over a 17-year period examined in the report issued by NSF, Western and Central European nations collectively more than doubled their annual production of first university degrees (a bachelor's degree or equivalent) in the natural sciences and engineering (NS&E). This is a 4.5 percent average annual rate of increase in NS&E degrees overall, with a slightly higher rate of increase (5.0 percent) in engineering degrees. In 1992 Europe produced almost 300,000 NS&E degrees, compared to 173,000 awarded by U.S. universities and colleges. Europe and the U.S. would have to combine their potential human resources for science and engineering to approach Asia, which awarded just over 523,000 NS&E degrees in 1992.

In 1992, doctoral degrees awarded in NS&E fields by Western and Central European institutions totaled 25,310, 38 percent above the U.S. level (18,251), and more than twice as many as recorded for Asian countries (11,223).

National Science Foundation

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