Countries around the world urgently need to spend more on research and development (R&D), according to the UNESCO Science Report: the race against time for smarter development. Although research spending has increased in most regions, 80% of countries still spend less than 1% of GDP.
So, where are the hotspots that offer the best opportunities for STEM professionals? Our map below provides some insight. Based on World Bank data, the map reveals that those countries with traditional STEM expertise continue to invest, with Japan, the US, UK, Germany and the Netherlands all performing strongly. Israel, Sweden and the Republic of Korea also stand out.
In fact, R&D investment has increased around the world and between 2014 and 2018 global research spending rose by 19.2%, outpacing the growth of the global economy (+14.8%). This translated into a rise in research intensity from 1.73% to 1.79% of GDP and has fuelled the increasing demand for STEM talent.
This focus on science and technology perhaps explains why there continues to be a strong demand for STEM expertise despite a more challenging economy since 2020 and why, of the 5,000 candidates who responded to our ‘How the STEM World Works’ survey, almost 90% believe that demand for their skills will stay the same or increase in the coming year.Jump to the map
STEM is the bedrock of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
The need to invest in R&D and the talent that supports it has arisen in part because nations everywhere are facing dual transitions. They are transitioning to a green economy in line with the Paris Agreement, and to a digitized economy where new technologies improve public services and payment systems, support business and combat corruption and tax evasion.
The UNESCO report explains: “To succeed in the dual transition, governments will not only need to spend more on R&D; they will also need to invest these funds strategically. This will entail taking a long-term view and aligning their economic, digital, environmental, industrial and agricultural policies, among others, to ensure that these are mutually reinforcing.”
Together with growing investment, government policies are fostering the emergence of smart manufacturing, smart finance (fintech), smart healthcare services like telemedicine, and smart agriculture. This change is being driven by technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, big data, the Internet of Things and blockchain, which are converging with nanotechnology, biotechnology and cognitive sciences to form the bedrock of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The value of science and technology in today’s society was highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic, when scientists shared information and data with one another, beginning with the sequenced genome of the coronavirus early in 2020. Technology proved its value in an emergency with, for example, Brazil calling on 140 telemedicine and e-health centres to provide virtual consultations and remote monitoring.
International R&D hotspots
Digital technologies are considered vital for future economic competitiveness, particularly AI and robotics. Many countries have set up institutional mechanisms to foster the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies. For example, South Africa appointed a Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution in 2019, while the Republic of Korea has had a Presidential Committee on the Fourth Industrial Revolution since 2017.
Between 2016 and 2020, more than 30 countries adopted dedicated strategies for AI. While Canada is striving to assume leadership in the international conversation on the potential social impact of AI, China, the Russian Federation and the US are vying for competitive advantage in the field.
Renewable energy is also at the heart of the dual transition and was the only energy sector to see growth at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Renewable energy systems have become more cost-effective than the alternatives, thanks largely to advances in wind and solar energy technology. The development of hydrogen fuel cell technology is a focus for both Japan and the Republic of Korea.
Our map provides some context about each county’s performance. Simply hover the cursor over each one to reveal its STEM story, alternatively hold down ‘ctrl’ and scroll to zoom in/out using a mouse.
Global hotspots for R&D investment
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