A comparison of funding in different countries per-capita by researchers (or “Let’s all move to Luxembourg”)

The state of science funding in North America is not great, and there is plenty of discussion about just what a crisis we are all in. However, one does sometimes wonder how funding really compares across borders. As a US-trained researcher now working in Canada, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the differences between funding models in those two countries. Perhaps an obvious (and difficult) question is: Which is the best system to be in as a researcher?

There are government statistics for the amount of R&D funding in many countries. Statistics Canada has some information broken down by province (as of 2009), the EU has a detailed report (2008/9), the World Bank has historical trends for many countries in total funding (up to 2010), and Wikipedia even has some data assembled for many countries. All of these stats are usually compared by absolute dollars or by % GDP. Many reports will refer to the GERD (Gross Expense on Research & Development) which lumps together business, government, and academic expenditures. Recent reports following R&D spending as a percentage of GDP have been making the rounds as the data suggest that China has started to outpace Europe and is catching up to many others.

But do these statistics reflect conditions on the ground for researchers? While the US still appears to rank at the top of lists by total expenditures, does that mean the US researchers have access to the most resources? If you work in a country that has a lower GERD but fewer researchers, is there more funding per researcher (PR)?

Lets start with that question, since it should be easy enough to calculate, and I was unable to find these types of comparisons elsewhere. Here is my calculation of funding for select countries per researcher based on GERD stats in this report:

Funding per researcher (OECD 2009)

A couple of points on these data: The US still comes out close to the top, but we see that small countries (like Luxembourg) shoot to the top due to a small population of researchers (there are about 500-times more researchers in the US for comparison). To avoid the extremes, lets just look at the top 10 most populous countries (by researcher).

Country Table (top 10)From the table, again the US is on top while still being the most populous. Canada is in the middle of the pack with approximately 60% of the funding level in the US. Germany, France, Japan and Korea are all at competitive levels with the US.

Keep in mind that these numbers combine Government, Academic, and Business funding of research. So any given segment could be very different in a side-by-side comparison. There is also no breakdown by research segment, or any inclusion of differences in funding models. On top of that, the numbers are a bit out of date – most of these are from 2009 and a lot has changed on the research scene since then (both in industry and academia). These are all topics for future posts, but hopefully these numbers are food for thought.

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