Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2011
People - Education
Research and development
Data sources: UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Human resources and investment in research and development (R&D) have increased in most countries of Asia and the Pacific during the last decade, with large increases in a few countries (China, Malaysia and Pakistan). Meanwhile, women continue to be grossly underrepresented among researchers.

R&D is key in ensuring long-term development via building knowledge-based societies. In turn, knowledge-based societies rely on appropriate funding and qualified R&D professionals to sustain development.


Spending on R&D can give countries a competitive advantage and support transition to a knowledge-based economy. Counting only countries with available data, world expenditure on R&D increased from PPP$790.3 billion to PPP$1,145.7 billion, over the last decade; developed countries accounted for almost two thirds of the increase.1, 2 The total for Asia increased from PPP$213.9 to PPP$369.3 billion during the same period, bringing its global share from 27% to 32%.2 China alone increased its R&D investment from PPP$39.2 to PPP$102.4 billion in that period.2 Japan, however, topped the list at PPP$147.9 billion in 2007. After Japan and China, the leading R&D investors in Asia were the Republic of Korea (PPP$41.3 billion), India (PPP$24.8 billion) and the Russian Federation (PPP$23.5 billion).2 Total spending of the Asian top five accounted for 92% of total reported R&D investment in Asia and the Pacific.

R&D intensity, defined as R&D spending as a percent of GDP, measures the relative importance of R&D in the national economy. As an indicator of competitiveness of a country’s economy, many countries have set a target of investing 1% of their GDP in R&D. Some developed countries set their target at 3%. Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and Singapore have spent more than 1% of their respective GDP on R&D, according to published data. Japan and the Republic of Korea topped the list based on the proportion of GDP spent on R&D at 3.4% of GDP in 2007. After Japan and the Republic of Korea, the leading R&D investors were Singapore (2.6%) and Australia (2.4%). China increased its R&D investment from 0.6% to 1.5% of GDP from 1996 to 2008. In Asia and the Pacific only 4 countries with available data decreased their spending on R&D as a percent of GDP in the last decade.

In terms of per capita spending on R&D, Singapore has the highest per capita expenditure at PPP$1,422, followed by Japan (PPP$1,167), the Republic of Korea (PPP$912), and Australia ($890). Although China is one of the top spenders on R&D in total PPP dollars, in terms of per capita it spends less than some other Asian and Pacific countries with PPP$90 per capita in 2008. Most countries in Asia spent less than $50 per capita on R&D investment.

In the last 10 years, R&D per capita expenditure has increased in all countries for which data are available. China and Azerbaijan, whose respective investments have increased by more than 600% from 1996 to 2008 and 2009, respectively, demonstrate the largest increases in per capita spending.


The number of R&D researchers indicates R&D potential in a country. Strong economic growth in Asia and the Pacific has fostered the rapid expansion of research during the past decade. However, the relatively low proportion of researchers in the region, just 746 per million inhabitants in 2007, is well below the world average of 1,081 researchers per million inhabitants.2 The Americas (North America and Latin America and the Caribbean, combined) and Europe have 2,010 and 2,639 researchers per million inhabitants, respectively.2 Based on the latest available data, the Asian and Pacific countries with more than 1,000 researchers per million inhabitants are Australia; China; Hong Kong, China; Japan; New Zealand; Republic of Korea; the Russian Federation; and Singapore. The disparity among countries is great: Japan had over 5,000 researchers per million (2008) inhabitants while the Philippines had only 78 (2007). The most significant increase in the number of researchers per million inhabitants was in Singapore, from 2,535 in 1996 to 6,033 in 2008. Large increases also occurred in the Republic of Korea and New Zealand, where numbers rose from 2,209 to 4,904 and from 2,194 to 4,365, respectively.

Figure I.42 – Gross domestic expenditure on research and development, Asia and the Pacific, PPP$ per capita

Figure I.42 – Gross domestic expenditure on research and development, Asia and the Pacific, PPP$ per capita

Gender equality in research and development3

Talented women need opportunities and a conducive environment to participate in R&D activities – essential components of national development. However, considering both full- and part-time employees in R&D, women are often un- or underrepresented. Asia and the Pacific ranks last among the world’s regions with respect to female participation in R&D. Women composed only 18% of the Asian R&D work force in 2007, while the African proportion was 33%, the Latin American and Caribbean 45% and European 34%. There is insufficient data in many countries to obtain a complete picture of female participation in Asia and especially the Pacific.

The gender imbalance varies greatly among Asian and Pacific countries. Among the 18 countries for which recent (between 2005 and 2009) data are available, 10 recorded a proportion of female researchers below 40%. In Japan and the Republic of Korea, few researchers were women (Japan, 13% in 2008, and the Republic of Korea, 16% in 2008). According to recent data, women outnumber men in research in only 3 countries: Azerbaijan, the Philippines and Thailand. Based on 1997 data, Myanmar has the highest proportion of women researchers in the region with 86% of researchers being women.

The following figure shows the participation of women at different stages of education and in research. No significant gender gap exists from pre-primary to master’s degree level. Women account for more than half of all master’s degree students. However, women are underrepresented in doctoral studies, limiting their opportunities for a research career.

Gender imbalance by educational level

Gender imbalance by educational level

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Data Centre. Available from (accessed April 2011).

1 Expenditure on R&D is expressed in billion Purchasing Power Parity Dollars (PPP$).

2 UIS data centre, Regional totals for R&D Expenditure and Researchers, June 2010, accessed in April 2011.

3 Data for this box is from: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Women in Science, Fact Sheet, No. 6, UIS/FS/2010/10 (October 2010). Available from

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