UNESCO Science Report

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The UNESCO Science Report is a global monitoring report published regularly by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Every five years, this report maps the latest trends and developments in national and regional policy landscapes, against the backdrop of shifting socio-economic, geopolitical and environmental realities. Each edition is released on 10 November, which is World Science Day for Peace and Development. The most recent edition was released on 10 November 2015.

Each report in the series provides a snapshot of the situation worldwide at a given time. Written by dozens of experts who each analyse developments in their country or region over the past five years, each report enables governments, academia, the private sector, development agencies and development banks, the media and other science watchers to monitor the evolution of science, technology and innovation policy and governance around the world. Readers can compare the situation in their own country with that elsewhere and study other approaches to building national innovation systems. This can help policy-makers and other stakeholders to identify emerging trends and best practices. It can also stimulate a debate at the national and regional levels on future policy directions. The report thus serves both as a monitoring tool and as a resource for foresight studies.[1]


In 1987, the General Conference of UNESCO approved the launch of the Organization's first world reports, the World Communication Report, which first appeared two years later. In 1989, the General Conference approved the launch of the World Education Report, which appeared in 1991, 1993, 1995, 1998 and 2000.[2]

The launch of these two reports created a momentum to generalize the world reports to all of UNESCO’s fields of competence. The World Science Report (as the UNESCO Science Report was originally known) was the next title to appear, in 1993.[3] The first World Information Report followed in 1997 then the World Social Science Report in 1999, as well as two World Culture Reports in 1998 and 2000. Two existing reports were merged to produce the World Communication and Information Report 1999−2000.

The World Science Report was first officially evoked in 1992 in the Preliminary Proposals by the Director-General concerning the Programme and Budget for 1994-1995. This document was submitted to UNESCO's Executive Board, which has 58 rotating member states and meets twice a year to monitor the implementation of UNESCO's programme. The document states that, ‘on the basis of the lessons drawn from drafting and publishing the first UNESCO World Science Report, measures will be taken to refine and improve this undertaking’.[4]

The World Science Report was initially an output of UNESCO's Science, Technology and Society programme.[4] The World Science Report replaced the UNESCO journal Impact of Science on Society, which dated from the 1950s. Jacques Richardson, Head of UNESCO’s Science and Society Section from 1972 to 1985 and former editor of Impact of Science on Society, observed in Sixty Years of Science at UNESCO (2006) that ‘the publication of Impact continued until the early 1990s, when it was converted into the biennial World Science Report’. The editor of the first three World Science Reports (1993, 1996 and 1998) was Howard Moore, who had succeeded Jacques Richardson as editor of Impact of Science on Society. The first edition of the report reflects this influence, since the World Science Report 1993 included a section popularizing contemporary issues in basic sciences.[5]

In 2000, the production of world reports was suspended pending the outcome of an external evaluation of UNESCO's policy with regard to world reports. The evaluation recommended to the Executive Board of UNESCO that, 'in the future, there should be one single UNESCO world report to be published every two years on a specific issue to be chosen by the organs (sic) of the Organization in an interactive way and presented to the General Conference for further debate, while the existing world reports should continue as analytical reports on the state of the art in education, the sciences, culture, and communication and information in four- to six-year intervals.’[6]

Several of the existing reports were consequently revived, including the World Science Report, World Social Science Report (in 2010) and the World Education Report. The latter was renamed the Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

In order to avoid confusion with UNESCO's new series of thematic world reports, UNESCO's analytical report on the state of the global support system for science was renamed the UNESCO Science Report. Susan Schneegans took over as editor of the series in 2003.[7]

In line with the recommendations of the external evaluation of UNESCO's policy with regard to world reports, the periodicity of the UNESCO Science Report was changed to five years and the series adopted a stronger focus on monitoring global trends and developments in science and technology policy. The five-year interval between reports has proved beneficial, since 'a quinquennial report has the advantage of being able to focus on longer-term trends, rather than becoming entrenched in descriptions of short-term annual fluctuations which, with respect to policy and science and technology indicators, rarely add much value'.[7][8]

Three reports in the series have appeared since the evaluation, in 2005, 2010 and 2015. The next report is due for release in November 2020. The focus in the 2015 edition, in particular, has been on demonstrating that science, technology and innovation policy and governance do not evolve in a vacuum but, rather, are influenced by political, socio-economic and environmental factors and, in turn, influence these.

Geographical coverage[edit]

The 2015 edition of the UNESCO Science Report provides the greatest detail yet in the series, with data on 189 countries and profiles of varying length of 140 countries. It contains three global chapters, 13 regional chapters and 11 chapters on individual countries, namely on: Brazil, Canada, China, India, Iran, Israel, Malaysia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and United States of America.

Themes covered include the recent reform of higher education in Afghanistan, West Africa's first Policy on Science and Technology (ECOPOST), science and technology in individual countries, including Brazil, Botswana, Kazakhstan, Malawi, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zimbabwe and the Pacific Islands, biomedical research in the United States, challenges facing innovation in Malaysia, the anticipated effect of Brexit on science and technology, the status of female participation in scientific research and the development of South-South cooperation in science.

The UNESCO Science Report has evolved over the years. The growing recognition by least developed countries that science, technology and innovation are a driver of socio-economic development, coupled with the availability of reliable statistics on research and development for a widening pool of countries, have made it possible to expand the report’s geographical coverage and consolidate its monitoring function. The 2015 edition of the UNESCO Science Report observes that, ‘although most research and development is taking place in high-income countries, innovation is pervasive and is occurring in countries across the full spectrum of income levels’.[9]

Key messages[edit]

The 2015 edition of the UNESCO Science Report analyses the years 2009–2015, which were a difficult transition period for many industrial countries. Ushered in by the global financial crisis of 2008, this transition was marked by a severe debt crisis, uncertainty over the strength of the ensuing recovery and the quest for an effective growth strategy. Many high-income countries are faced with similar challenges, such as an ageing society, chronic low growth and tough international competition (e.g. European Union, Japan, Republic of Korea, USA). Even those countries that are doing well economically, such as Israel and the Republic of Korea, fret over how to maintain their edge in a rapidly evolving world. Meanwhile, economies that had enjoyed buoyant commodity markets for over a decade (e.g. Australia, Brazil, Canada, Russian Federation) are having to reassess their options, now that the cyclical boom has come to an end.[10][11][12][13]

One growth strategy being adopted by a growing number of countries is investment in advanced manufacturing. Information technology is driving what has been termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A growing number of countries are developing smart manufacturing technologies, such as cyber-physical systems, including Canada, China, France, Germany, India, the Republic of Korea and the United States. A wide range of industrial products now incorporate information technology. Examples include three-dimensional printers, connected reality, next-generation robotics, smart biomedical machines and self-driving cars. There is also a growing tendency to use information technology to develop futuristic, hyper-connected smart cities (e.g. China, Republic of Korea) capable of offering more efficient public services in the field of water, energy, transportation and so on.[8]

Although the G20 countries still account for 87% of researchers and 92% of research expenditure - compared to two-thirds of the global population -, the UNESCO Science Report observes that the research gap is gradually narrowing. Investment in research and development doubled in low-income countries between 2007 and 2013 to $3.9 billion (in purchasing power parity dollars). Many low-income countries are now incorporating science, technology and innovation in their national development agenda, conscious that their plans to diversify and modernize the economy will be thwarted, if they cannot call upon a critical mass of skilled personnel, including scientists, engineers and technicians. Regional economic communities, too, are increasingly aware that successful economic integration will depend upon how well member states assimilate science and technology.[12][14][1]

Despite the economic and financial crisis of 2008–2009, expenditure on research and development rose by 30.5% between 2007 and 2013, more than global gross domestic product (up 20%). There has been a relative convergence in the level of public commitment to research in the past five years, as wealthy governments have cut back their commitment as part of a wider austerity drive, even as governments in lower income countries (e.g. Ethiopia, Kenya and Mali) have taken advantage of the commodities boom to step up their own commitment. This convergence is not yet visible in the global data for research expenditure because the business sector in higher income countries has maintained or increased its own spending on research and development, despite the crisis.[10][11][12][13]

The report observes that, faced with a moribund economy, some governments have been tempted to divert public resources towards commercial applications, to the detriment of basic research and public good science. They need to recognize that ‘science powers commerce – but not only,’ advises one of the report’s authors. It is a question of balance. A sustained public investment in basic and high-risk research makes economic sense, since neglecting these areas leads to a smaller pool of new knowledge, which, in turn, means that there will be less science to commercialize in the years to come. Switzerland, for example, is a global innovation leader but also devotes about 30% of research expenditure to basic research.[11][12][13]

The number of researchers worldwide progressed by 21% between 2007 and 2013. Less than one-third of researchers are women (28%), on average, but a growing number of countries are putting policies in place to correct this imbalance. It is, above all, the shortfall in women engineers and computer scientists which brings the average down. The highest ratios of female researchers are not always found in the most developed regions: in Latin America and the Caribbean, for instance, 44% of researchers are women and, in the Arab States, 37%, compared to 33% in the European Union.[10][11][12][13][2].

Scientists have never been so mobile. We are seeing an emerging global education and employment market for scientists and engineers, as research institutions and universities compete with one another to attract the world’s best talent. Increasingly, it is considered a must in both the public and private sectors to have an international composition of research staff. As the report puts it, 'Silicon Valley in the USA was built on IC, a reference not to integrated circuits but to the contribution of Indians and Chinese to this innovation hub’s success’[3].

We are also witnessing an ongoing process of ‘multipolarization’ of scientific production. The number of scientific publications worldwide progressed by 23% between 2008 and 2014, the growth rate being highest in upper middle-income (95%) and low-income (68%) countries (Thomson Reuters data). Scientists are not only publishing more in internationally catalogued journals but also co-authoring a greater share of papers with foreign partners. Internet is fostering ‘open access’ to information and data, while the greater physical mobility of scientists is forging closer international ties. 'The competition to publish in a limited number of high-impact journals has increased dramatically’, observes the report, ‘as has the competition among scientists to secure jobs in the most reputed research institutions and universities'.[10][11][12][13][15][4]

‘The fly in the ointment’, according to the report, ‘is that cross-border flows of knowledge in the form of researchers, scientific co-authorship, invention co-ownership and research funding are also strongly dependent on factors that have little to do with science. These days, mercantilism characterizes much of national policy-making in science, technology and innovation. All governments are keen to increase high-tech exports but few are prepared to discuss removing non-tariff barriers (such as government procurement) that may be constraining their imports. Everyone wishes to attract foreign research centres and skilled professionals but few are prepared to discuss frameworks for facilitating cross-border movement'.[11]

As predicted in the UNESCO Science Report 2010, international diplomacy has increasingly taken the form of science diplomacy in recent years. Countries at all stages of development stand to gain from this trend but the spirit of co-operation and solidarity that has characterized development partners up until now must be preserved. Trade relations are important but international relations must not be confined to trade. Achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) will depend not only on the diffusion of technology but also on how well countries partner with one another in the pursuit of science to solve pressing social and environmental problems and to ensure that nobody is left behind.

Monitoring progress towards Sustainable Development Goals[edit]

The UNESCO Science Report 2010 had observed a paradigm shift towards greener growth. It is evident from the 2015 edition that this trend has since accelerated and is seducing an ever-greater number of countries, even if levels of public investment may not always be commensurate with ambitions. Partly as a result of the commodities boom over the past decade, countries have become more aware of the value of their natural capital. Those that have anticipated the end of this cyclical boom are already implementing strategies to diversify their economies. In many countries, this strategy focuses on developing a knowledge economy [10][11][5].

For many developing countries, sustainable development is an integral part of their national development plans for the next 10–20 years. National and regional policy orientations may also be inspired by the desire to develop coping strategies to protect agriculture, reduce disaster risk and/or ensure energy security, such as by diversifying the national energy mix and improving energy efficiency. Even some oil-rent economies have invested in renewable energy in recent years, such as Algeria (solar and wind). Most of the social innovation observed in East and Central Africa since 2009 tackles pressing development issues, such as overcoming food insecurity, mitigating climate change or the transition to renewable energy. Around the world, there is a growing tendency to develop futuristic hyper-connected smart cities or ‘green’ cities which use the latest technology to improve efficiency in water and energy use, construction materials, transportation and so on.[10][11]

Among high-income countries, a firm commitment to sustainable development is often coupled with the desire to maintain competitiveness in global markets that are increasingly leaning towards green technologies. This is the case, for example, in the European Union, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, for instance, has developed a jet airliner which it hopes will conquer the global market, thanks to its high fuel efficiency, low environmental impact and minimal noise. The company began developing the aircraft in 2003, after the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry announced that it would subsidize such an undertaking.[10][11]

The UNESCO Science Report (2015) provides baseline information and data on the development path countries were following at the time of adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in September 2015. Subsequent reports in the series will contribute to monitoring progress towards SDG target 9.5, in particular, which calls upon countries to: Enhance scientific research, upgrade the technological capabilities of industrial sectors in all countries, in particular developing countries, including, by 2030, encouraging innovation and substantially increasing the number of research and development workers per 1 million people and public and private research and development spending [10][11].

Data sources[edit]

The data in the UNESCO Science Report are presented in the form of tables, graphics and as a statistical annex. 'Since science, technology and innovation do not evolve in a vacuum, the latest edition (2015) summarizes the evolution since 2010 against the backdrop of socio-economic, geopolitical and environmental trends that have helped to shape contemporary science, technology and innovation policy and governance'.[8]

The data on human and financial investment in research and development are provided primarily by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, which conducts a survey of all UNESCO Member States on a regular basis to obtain data on trends in higher education, research and development and innovation. The socio-economic data cited in the report come from a variety of sources, including the World Bank, the International Telecommunications Union and government reports. The bibliometric data have been provided by Thomson Reuters and were treated, in the 2015 edition of the report, by Science-Metrix.

The 2015 edition of the UNESCO Science Report contains a chapter summarizing the findings of the first international survey of innovation conducted by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics in 2014. Manufacturing firms in 65 developed and developing countries responded to the survey.

Reports in the series[edit]

All the reports in the series are open access. They may be downloaded and purchased in various languages.

UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (2015)[edit]

The sixth report in the series was launched on 10 November 2015. This edition is freely accessible online in English and French. Editions in Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish are due for release in 2017. The report may also be purchased from UNESCO Publishing. The Executive Summary is open access and exists in nine languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, German and Catalan.[16]

UNESCO Science Report 2010[edit]

The fifth report in the series was launched on 10 November 2010. It is freely accessible online in English and Chinese and may be purchased from UNESCO Publishing in English. The executive summary is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.[17]

UNESCO Science Report 2005[edit]

The fourth report in the series was launched on 10 November 2005. It is freely accessible online in English and French and may also be purchased from UNESCO Publishing in English and French.[18]

World Science Report 1998[edit]

The third report in the series is freely accessible online in English and Chinese and may also be purchased from UNESCO Publishing in English, French and Spanish.[19]

World Science Report 1996[edit]

The second report in the series is freely accessible online in English and French and may also be purchased from UNESCO Publishing in English, French and Spanish.[20]

World Science Report 1993[edit]

The first report in the series is freely accessible online in Arabic, Chinese and English. It was published in 1993.[21]

External links[edit]


Definition of Free Cultural Works logo notext.svg This article incorporates text from a free content work. Licensed under CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0 UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030, UNESCO. To learn how to add open license text to Wikipedia articles, please see this how-to page. For information on reusing text from Wikipedia, please see the terms of use.


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  4. ^ a b UNESCO (1992). "Preliminary proposals by the Director-General concerning the Draft Programme and Budget for 1994-1995" (PDF). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ UNESCO (2006). Sixty Years of Science at UNESCO (PDF). UNESCO Publishing.
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  7. ^ a b Richardson, Jacques (2006). "UNESCO surveys the globalization of science and technology" (PDF). Science and Public Policy. 33.
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