R and D is not typical

July 4, 1997

YOU REPORT the finding of the 1997 Research and Development scoreboard that United Kingdom R and D expenditure as a percentage of sales falls behind that of other G7 countries (THES, June ). This news is the same every year. And every year some pharmaceutical and engineering companies are cited as notable exceptions. If only, goes the implicit message, other sectors and companies would follow their example of high investment in R and D, all would be well.

But this is to misunderstand the shift in economic activity. All sectors have an expertise from which they create their products. But it is not always R and D as conventionally understood and measured. In most of the increasingly important service industries - in finance, tourism or the media, for example - it is economic understanding or cultural traditions or human creativity that provides the knowledge base. The R and D scoreboard ignores investment here.

The UK is a world leader in the transition to such a service-based economy. So it may be unsurprising that it ranks low in its R and D expenditure. Which is not to say that the achievements of the UK pharmaceutical and engineering companies are anything other than laudable. It is just that they may no longer be typical.

William Solesbury

Research management consultant, London SW6

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