Science, technology and innovation policy

Main Science and Technology Indicators


Last update: 2020/1 (August 2020)
Next update: 2020/2 (February 2021)

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Research and development (R&D) intensity (expenditure on R&D as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, GDP) in the OECD area rose from 2.34% in 2017 to 2.38% in 2018, according to the latest data published on 5 August 2020 in the OECD Main Science and Technology Indicators (MSTI) database. This increase, which follows a similar rise between 2016 and 2017, was driven by faster real growth in R&D expenditure (+3.9%) compared to GDP (+2.3%). The OECD area has not seen comparable growth in R&D expenditure over a two-year period since before the 2008 global financial crisis. Growth in R&D intensity was widespread across the majority of OECD countries in 2018, with the United States, Japan, Germany and Korea accounting for much of the increase. In some countries, such as Canada and Sweden, R&D expenditure remained stagnant. R&D intensity in the EU28 area surpassed the 2% threshold for the first time, rising from 1.98% to 2.03%, due in large part to trends in Germany, the United Kingdom and Poland. Israel and Korea displayed the highest levels of R&D intensity among OECD countries in 2018, at 4.9% and 4.5% of GDP, respectively.



Real expenditure on R&D in the OECD area grew by 3.9% in 2018, mostly driven by the R&D performance behaviour of businesses, which accounted for more than 75% of this growth. The Business Enterprise sector, which accounts for 71% of all R&D performance in the OECD area, saw its R&D expenditure increase by 4.2% in 2018. R&D in the Higher Education (HE) sector grew by 2.6%, while R&D expenditures in the Government sector rose by 4.4% -- the highest rate since 2001. Yet R&D performance among government institutions remains only 13% higher than it was before the onset of the global financial crisis – on par with 2010 levels – and it accounts for less than 10% of OECD R&D expenditure. By contrast, Higher Education and Business Enterprise R&D have increased by 27% and 34%, respectively, compared to 2007.


In 2018, the United States, Japan, Germany, Korea and France were the largest R&D performers in the OECD area. In line with other OECD statistical international comparisons, MSTI provides updated international comparisons of R&D expenditure in absolute levels in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) units. PPPs are intended to reflect the actual relative cost of GDP components and avoid the fluctuations caused by current market conversions to a common currency, but are also subject to revisions. Following the very recent release of 2017 benchmark PPPs (May 2020) by the International Comparison Program, China’s position as the world's second-largest R&D performer is confirmed for 2018 at 80% of the United States, up from 26% in 2005. Compared to the last MSTI update in February, for 2018, when China’s R&D was estimated to be 95% of the United States’, the gap in R&D expenditure is now more pronounced as the revised PPPs imply a relatively higher cost of R&D performance compared to previous estimates. This is because the relative price of investment had been underestimated prior to the new benchmark.




Government R&D budget indicators for the OECD area present the amounts that governments allocate for R&D, rather than actual expenditure reported by R&D performers. The latest indicators show that R&D budgets rose by 1.5%, in real terms, in 2019. This moderate growth follows a larger increase in 2018 (+5.5%) which had pushed R&D budget allocations above their 2009 peak. Indirect tax-based support measures, which are not part of R&D budget estimates, have been increasing in importance in recent years, often crowding out direct government support (see 





 Download key highlights from the previous edition (February 2020)


About MSTI

The MSTI database provides a set of indicators that reflect the level and structure of efforts in the field of science and technology undertaken from 1981 onwards by OECD Member countries and seven non-member economies: Argentina, China, Romania, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, Chinese Taipei.  These data include final or provisional results as well as forecasts established by government authorities.  The indicators cover the resources devoted to research and development, patent families, and international trade in R&D-intensive industries.

Indicators on R&D expenditures, budgets, and personnel are derived from the OECD’s Research and Development Statistics database (RDS), which is based on the data reported to OECD and Eurostat in the framework of the joint OECD/Eurostat international data collection on resources devoted to R&D.

The sources for the other indicators include the OECD databases on Bilateral Trade in Goods by Industry and End-use category database (BTDIxE) and on Patents.

This database presents time series which end before the United Kingdom (UK)’s withdrawal from the European Union on 1 February 2020. The EU28 aggregate presented here therefore refers to the EU including the UK. In future publications, as soon as the time series presented extend to periods beyond the UK withdrawal, the “European Union” aggregate will change to reflect the new EU country composition. Interested readers may refer to the Eurostat website for further information on Eurostat’s plans for disseminating EU aggregates and to the Eurostat database for the actual series.


Accessing MSTI

The electronic edition is available via the OECD’s data dissemination service, “OECD.stat”From there, the MSTI Excel file can be downloaded by clicking “export” and then “related files”. The MSTI database is also available online through OECDiLibrary.

The OECD R&D and GBARD Sources and Methods Database contains metadata relating to series presented in MSTI and RDS.


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