EU research performance: substantial progress but important challenges need to be addressed

March 18, 2003

Brussels, 17 March 2003

Europe's performance in research comes under scrutiny today with the publication of the Third European Report on Science & Technology (S&T) Indicators 2003. The EU produces the highest number of science graduates and postgraduates and is also the world's largest producer of scientific publications. European scientists continue to be strong in areas such as medical research and chemistry. Europe also excels in high-tech sectors such as aeronautics and telecommunications. However the EU is still investing much less than its main competitors in research, and the difference is increasing. Europe produces more PhDs and graduates in S&T than the US and Japan, but employs fewer researchers. Many of Europe's best brains still prefer to go to North America for better employment opportunities. Europe also accounts for a decreasing number of patents and its high tech trade position is deteriorating.

"This is not just a study it is a policy tool", said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "It will enable European leaders in research and innovation to monitor their progress. The aim is to map out and highlight the areas where Europe excels. This in turn will attract excellence. Increasingly, our researchers look first to the US before considering what is available for them here in Europe. To address our shortcomings and build on our strengths, we must first focus on the benefits that Europe has to offer. I am confident policy-makers will take this into account in their efforts to meet the objective of turning Europe into the most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010."

Human resources

The EU produces a larger number of graduates and PhDs in science and technology than the US (2.14 million in 2000, compared to 2.07 million in the US and 1.1 million in Japan). The EU, however, employs fewer researchers (5.4 researchers per 1000 labour force, against 8.7 in the US and 9.7 in Japan).

Mobility of scientists in Europe is mainly internal: more than one-third of foreign students following tertiary education and 50% of foreign S&T employees come from another Member State. The majority of the S&T employees who decide to work abroad go to the US. Nearly 75% of European PhD recipients prefer to stay in the US after their PhD. This share is, moreover, increasing since the beginning of the 1990s.

Industry and competitiveness

Europe's performance in terms of high-tech trade is deteriorating: the trade deficit in high-tech products has grown from €9 billion in 1995 to €48 billion in 2000.

Europe is lagging behind in the biotechnology revolution. It has a larger scientific production than the US in the field of biotechnology, but European firms are weak when it comes to patenting and commercialisation. In Europe, where EU companies can be expected to have a home-advantage, European firms account for .8 percent of patent applications, whereas US firms account for 51.9 percent.

In the field of nanotechnology - an emerging key technology - Europe is currently performing well in terms of scientific production and even in terms of patenting: the EU-15 and EFTA together account for 39% of European and world nanotech patents, compared to 45% for the US and Canada.

In terms of overall technological performance, over the last decade Europe's share of patent applications at the European Patent Office (EPO) and patents granted at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has declined, although it appears to have stabilised in the last few years. The situation is worse as far as high tech patents are concerned.

Universities and public research centres

Europe tops the US and Japan in terms of scientific production, for instance in terms of publications. The evidence shows that European universities are good at creating knowledge, which is their core objective. They are increasingly collaborating with enterprises, which is a positive development.

While some large universities try and establish a solid presence in all fields of science, others are much more focused and specialised, resulting in a somewhat smaller overall number of publications, but often with higher than world average citation impact scores.

European perspectives

The EU as a whole is spending much less on R&D (in 2000, 1,94% of its Gross Domestic Product) than its main competitors, the US (2,80%) and Japan (2,98%). Moreover, this "investment gap" is widening at a fast pace since the mid-1990s: the EU-US divide has mushroomed, in terms of purchasing power, from €43 billion in 1994 to €83 billion in 2000.

The investment gap is mainly due to the low contribution of the private sector, which represents in Europe only 56% of the total financing of research, against more than two-thirds in the US and Japan.

As far as defence and dual-use R&D are concerned, the fragmentation and artificial separation between civilian and military research severely hinders Europe's competitiveness. Uncoordinated and scattered research efforts hamper overall EU R&D efficiency, but this is particularly true in the defence sector, where Europeans are unable to consistently translate research into technological applications. On the contrary, the US has been particularly successful in this respect: the GPS (Global Positioning System), the world wide web (internet) and satellite telecommunications represent success stories, with the first concept being developed for defence purposes and eventually adapted into civilian products and services.

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DN: IP/03/389 Date: 17/03/2003

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