New Data for SDG 9.5 on Research and Development


Updated data on the human and financial resources devoted to research and experimental development (R&D) for 162 countries and territories has just been published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). This includes the results of the UIS 2018 R&D Statistics Survey, as well as new statistics obtained from its partners, notably the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat) and the Ibero-American Network of Science and Technology Indicators (RICYT).

The release includes the final data for the 2017 reference year and time series data for two global indicators used to monitor Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 9.5. With SDG 9, countries have pledged to “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”. In particular, SDG Target 9.5 calls upon them to encourage innovation, upgrade technological capabilities, and substantially increase the number of researchers, as well as public and private spending on R&D.

The UIS is responsible for producing both of the global monitoring indicators for this target:


According to the data, the Top 5 R&D performers in relative terms (R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP for the last year available) are: Israel and the Republic of Korea (4.6%) being the world leaders, followed by Switzerland (3.4%), Sweden (3.3%) and Japan (3.2%). The ranking changes when viewed according to absolute terms, where large economies dominate. In absolute terms (in billions of PPP dollars), the top five countries where significant R&D investments were made in 2017 were: the United States (543), China (496), Japan (176), Germany (127) and the Republic of Korea (90).   

Regions have been setting their own spending targets for some time. The most prominent is the European Union (EU) target to raise overall R&D investment to 3% of GDP by 2020. Four EU countries have already reached this target: Sweden (3.3%), Austria (3.2%), Denmark (3.1%) and Germany (3.0%).

The African Union has set a target of 1% of GDP invested on R&D, but UIS data show that only three sub-Saharan African countries are close to this target: South Africa, Kenya and Senegal (around 0.8% in all three countries).

In North America, the United States and Canada spent 2.8% and 1.6% of GDP on R&D respectively (2017). In Latin America and the Caribbean, Brazil reported the highest level of R&D investment for 2016 (1.3%), followed by Argentina, Mexico and Costa Rica (0.5%). The top investors in other regions are: Georgia (0.3%) in Central Asia, the Republic of Korea (4.6%) in East Asia, India (0.6%) in South and West Asia, and United Arab Emirates (1.0%) in the Arab States.

The percentage of female researchers based on headcounts is less than one-third of total researchers worldwide (only about 29.3% in 2016). Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest share of female researchers (at 48.2% and 45.1% respectively). In contrast, the share falls to 18.5% in South and West Asia. But there are some exceptions at the country level. Women researchers outnumber men in: Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Panama, Thailand, North Macedonia, Tunisia and Venezuela.

The updated data, including time series data, are available in the UIS database.

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