China's reform of R&D budget management doesn't go far enough, research shows

August 29, 2014

In almost 20 years, China's R&D expenditure as a percentage of its gross domestic product has more than tripled, reaching 1.98 per cent in 2012. This figure surpasses the 28 member states of the EU, which collectively managed 1.96 per cent.

However, despite this, China saw a sharp decline in money spent on scientific research, in particular applied research. Basic research funding plummeted from 5.2 per cent in 1995 to 4.7 per cent in 2011, and applied research funding fell from 26.4 per cent to 11.8 per cent in the same years.

This is Dr Cao's second Science article in a year. Last August, he led a group of scholars from the US and China to publish an article on the reform of China's science and technology (S&T) system.

This article, in collaboration with Dr Yutao Sun, from the Dalian University of Technology in China, acknowledges a recent move by the Chinese government to increase transparency of its R&D expenditure, details of which have benefited the research.

Dr Sun and Dr Cao of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies said: "China's recent requirement that central government agencies release their departmental annual reports indicates that the nation is catching up to international norms in disclosing the government's expenditure, including its R&D expenditure profile, emphasising not only aggregate statistics but also the structure of, and government's contribution to, the expenditure."

A need for further reforms

Although recent reforms have decentralised distribution of China's R&D spending, through a series of agencies, which the authors acknowledge could be advantageous, they also present new challenges, including a lack of top-level design, effective coordination, and transparency in budgeting and spending. This has led to a both an overlap between agencies or even a rush to spend funds in certain programmes.

While the improved transparency goes some way to bringing China's R&D reporting processes in line with international norms, the authors criticise the fact that the Chinese government embeds its R&D expenditure in its broader S&T expenditure statistics. Instead, they argue, China's government should switch its reporting from S&T to R&D expenditure, as well as ensuring the government's R&D expenditure is cited in the country's R&D statistics.

"It is a key step to bringing transparency to government R&D funding and helping reduce corruption, as well as harmonising with international norms," explained Dr Sun and Dr Cao.

A missing link?

The authors believe the shift from spending on predominantly applied research to development research may be attributed to China's innovation policy, which favours development over scientific research.

Dr Cao said: "The low share of scientific research expenditure has negatively affected China's innovation capability and may jeopardise China's ambition to become an innovation-oriented nation. Shrinking of applied research is a serious problem, because applied research links basic and development research."

The authors recommend that, ultimately, if China wants its research and development to compete on a world stage, its needs to increase its contribution from 21.7 per cent in 2011 of gross expenditure in R&D to 30 per cent by 2020, bringing it in line with competing nations.

Explore further: Researcher finds Canadian policing costs too high

More information:

Related Stories

Researcher finds Canadian policing costs too high

April 1, 2014

According to a study by Queen's researcher Christian Leuprecht, if the cost of policing in Canada is to become more sustainable there must be a discussion surrounding the extent of police service and how these are delivered.

China looks to science and technology to fuel its economy

April 10, 2014

Maintaining stability in the face of rapid change and growth, and proactively partaking in cooperative global ties in science and technology fields will be key in helping China become an innovation-based economy, according ...

Recommended for you

48-million-year-old horse-like fetus discovered in Germany

October 7, 2015

A 48 million year-old horse-like equoid fetus has been discovered at the Messel pit near Frankfurt, Germany according to a study published October 7, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jens Lorenz Franzen from Senckenberg ...

Chimpanzees shed light on origins of human walking

October 6, 2015

A research team led by Stony Brook University investigating human and chimpanzee locomotion have uncovered unexpected similarities in the way the two species use their upper body during two-legged walking. The results, reported ...

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Aug 29, 2014
China manufactures commodities. Chinese design means 200 years old.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2014
China manufactures commodities. Chinese design means 200 years old.

Kind of like the attitude many had towards Japan back in the 1950s and 1960s. Funny how things can change while you're not watching.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.