"Science and Engineering Indicators 2012" Released by National Science Board
"Science and Engineering Indicators 2012" Released by National Science Board

February 2012

Last month, the National Science Board released Science and Engineering Indicators 2012, examining the state of science and engineering activities around the world. Using indicators such as number of academic degrees conferred, research published, inventions patented, and employment turnover, the report seeks to provide an understanding of trends in educational achievement, in research and development, and in state and regional economic development. Together, the data present a snapshot of global investment in science, engineering, and technology, which the report correlates with innovation, growth, and economic health.

Indicators 2012 underscores the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels. According to the report, U.S. elementary and secondary students are advancing in STEM knowledge and skills but still lag behind international averages in mathematics. Without a firm foundation in Grades K–12, students cannot expect to excel in postsecondary STEM courses. STEM higher education encourages societies’ development of advanced knowledge in these fields, which facilitates positive social and economic externalities through innovation. Increasing numbers of students across the world, especially among minorities and women, are earning advanced degrees in the natural sciences and engineering. In 2008, although the United States conferred more science and engineering doctorates than any other country, China awarded 34% of all of first university degrees in engineering, compared with the United States’ 4%. 

The report also uses data on research outputs to examine the state of academic activities. Asian scholars are publishing a growing share of peer-reviewed articles; collaboration among active scholars more frequently crosses geographic borders; and academic articles more often cite international references. Patent awards are increasing, the majority received by non-U.S. researchers.

A prominent and continuing trend noted in Indicators 2012 is the value that developing countries place on integrating science and technology into their policies and economies. As governments across the globe continuously invest in higher education and infrastructure and increase foreign direct investment, new markets have emerged and are attracting the attention of multinational corporations. Global expenditures on R & D rose from $522 billion in 1996 to $1.3 trillion in 2009, outstripping the expansion rate of global GDP during the same period. In addition, postsecondary educational attainment in the natural sciences and engineering is shifting eastward: In 2008, 56% of the world’s undergraduate engineering degrees were awarded in Asia.

Overall, Indicators 2012 demonstrates that the role of science and technology in increasingly globalized contexts is expanding. The report explores the nuances of development in the scientific sectors and how international competition and partnerships continue to shape global capabilities. Focus may be shifting from the United States, but it remains a leader in education and innovation.

Indicators 2012 was developed by the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, under the purview of the National Science Board. The complete report consists of an overview, eight chapters, glossary, appendix, and references. The final chapter features a state indicators analysis detailing educational, workforce, research and development, and economic trends across the United States. An online state data tool allows comparison of states on a variety of measures. In addition to the biennial indicators reports, the Board publishes Science and Engineering Indicators Digest to provide a condensed version of each report. All data and analyses are reviewed internally and externally to ensure accuracy, relevancy, and impartiality.

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