Universities in Asia are beginning to emerge as world-leading research institutions, and are giving the United States and Europe a run for their money in key science areas, according to figures published today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), based in Paris.
The United States houses 40 of the world’s 50 universities with the most-cited academic papers, and the remaining 10 are based in Europe. But China has six of the world’s 50 top-performing universities in the areas of pharmacology, toxicology and pharmaceutics. And the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is among the top universities in computer science, engineering and chemistry, according to the OECD’s 2011 scoreboard for science, technology and industry.
“World-wide, the 50 universities with the highest impact are concentrated in a handful of economies", the scoreboard says. “A more diverse picture emerges on a subject-by-subject basis.”
The United States continues to be the biggest overall spender on research and development (R&D), forking out US$400 billion on in-country projects in 2008. It is followed by China, which has one third the budget of the United States. Japan comes in a close third. The European Union as a whole spent about US$300 billion in 2009. However, Israel has the highest R&D intensity, spending over 4% of its gross domestic product on research.
The quality of patents has fallen sharply over the past two decades, the scoreboard reports. “The rush to protect even minor improvements in products or services is overburdening patent offices. This slows the time to market for true innovations and reduces the potential for breakthrough inventions,” it warns.
Patent quality dropped by around 20% between 1990 and 2010. Patent quality is an indicator of the technological the economic value of innovations, and is measured by indicators such as patent citations, claims and patent renewals.
Patents from inventors in the United States, Germany and Japan are the most highly cited, suggesting “they are true innovations being used by many firms in their products to generate further innovations”, it says.