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China has played a major role in helping Asia overtake Europe in research and development spending, according to a report released last month (December 2005) by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

It says that from 1997 to 2002, Asian funding from public and private sources rose by four per cent, enabling Asia to account for 32 per cent of global research spending.

In those five years, China's share of global spending more than doubled, from four to nine per cent.

Meanwhile, the Latin America and the Caribbean region's share of the global total fell from 3.1 per cent to 2.6 per cent.

"Three countries — Brazil, Mexico and Argentina — account for 85 per cent of the region's [research spending], leaving the remainder with average expenditures of no more than 0.1 per cent of GDP — with the small but notable exception of Cuba, at 0.6 per cent," says the report.

Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa contributed just 0.1 per cent of the global total.

UNESCO director-general Koïchiro Matsuura welcomed the Asian boost but pointed out the need to deliver the benefits of research to the region's people.

"With hundreds of millions of Asian children still living in poverty, the benefits of research and development are still not reaching large segments of the population," he wrote in his foreword to the report.

The report also compares spending per researcher in different regions in 2002. At US$8,900, this was lowest in the Commonwealth of Independent States, which gathers Russia and most of the former Soviet republics.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the average was US$114,000, a surprisingly high figure that the report puts down to the fact that the region has just 30,900 researchers and that, at US$357,600, spending per researcher in South Africa was so high.

Spending per researcher in the European Union was US$177,000.

The report recommends that international collaborations between industrialised and developing countries should focus not only on technology transfer but also on capacity building to ensure that transferred technologies can take root.

It adds that although private sector funding is important for research and development, strong national science policies are needed to provide consistent public funding for basic research.

The 2005 UNESCO Science Report is the fourth in a series presenting a periodic overview of global scientific research and higher education.

Link to report table: global research spending 2002
*GRED = gross expenditure on research and development

Link to report table: world researchers 2002

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