NSB Issues 2024 S&E Indicators Report

By John Russell

March 19, 2024

As always, there’s good and bad news in latest Science & Engineering (S&E) Indicators Report, issued biennially by the National Science Board. On the plus side, enrollment in graduate S&E programs bounced back from pandemic-era lows, and the U.S. retained its lead in R&D spending worldwide. On the downside, there was a sharp decline in mathematics performance in elementary and secondary school students.

Here’s an excerpt from the report’s conclusion:

“With respect to long-term trends, aggregate levels of S&E resources and activity have shifted toward East and Southeast Asia—in particular, China. The United States is the leading source of health sciences publications and patenting in chemistry and instruments, whereas China is the top producer of S&E doctoral degrees, total S&E publications, and international patents. The United States performs more total R&D than any other country and is by far the largest performer of basic research. However, the U.S. R&D system—and by extension, the nation’s competitiveness—relies heavily on foreign-born scientists and engineers, especially at the doctorate level.”

The latest report calls out 11 key takeaways bulleted below. They present an interesting summary snapshot of the NSB findings:

  • National assessments show a sharp decline in elementary and secondary student mathematics performance since the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2019 to 2022, average mathematics scores of fourth and eighth grade students dropped to levels last measured approximately 20 years ago.
  • Enrollment of international science and engineering (S&E) graduate students at U.S. institutions has rapidly increased from approximately 200,000 in 2020, a pandemic-era low point, to nearly 310,000 in 2022. International students on temporary visas accounted for about a third of S&E master’s and doctoral degree recipients at U.S. institutions in 2021.
  • The U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce comprised 36.8 million people in diverse occupations that require STEM knowledge and expertise in 2021, accounting for 24% of the total U.S. workforce. Just over half of STEM workers did not have bachelor’s degrees or higher. Foreign-born individuals made up 19% of all STEM workers and 43% of doctorate-level scientists and engineers.
  • Women account for lower shares of degree recipients in engineering and computer and information sciences than men. Women are underrepresented in the STEM workforce, and they accounted for 35% of all STEM workers in 2021. Hispanic or Latino, Black or African American, and American Indian or Alaska Native individuals are underrepresented among S&E degree recipients at the bachelor’s degree level and above and also among STEM workers with at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • The United States is the largest performer of research and development (R&D), with $806 billion in gross domestic expenditures on R&D in 2021. Other top R&D-performing countries include China ($668 billion), Japan ($177 billion), Germany ($154 billion), and South Korea ($120 billion). The United States is also among the world’s most R&D-intensive economies, with R&D expenditures equaling 3.5% of its gross domestic product in 2021.
  • The absolute amount of federally funded R&D increased from 2011 to 2021; however, due to significant growth in R&D funded by businesses, the share of total U.S. R&D funded by the federal government decreased from 30% in 2011 to 19% in 2021. The business sector now funds 36% of basic research, close to the 40% share of basic research funded by the federal government.
  • The federal government is the largest supporter of academic R&D, funding 52% of all R&D performed by higher education institutions and supporting 15% of full-time S&E graduate students in 2021.
  • S&E articles published in open-access journals increased over 50-fold in the past two decades, from 19,000 articles published in 2003 to 992,000 articles in 2022.
  • Indicators of global science, technology, and innovation (STI) capabilities, such as S&E research publications, patenting, and knowledge- and technology-intensive (KTI) industry output, are concentrated in the United States, East and Southeast Asia, and Europe. Over the past decade, China has significantly increased its share of global STI capabilities.
  • China is the top overall producer of S&E publications and international patents and has the greatest KTI manufacturing output. The United States, which has a greater share of its publications among the most highly cited S&E research, is the world leader in KTI services. These two countries are the largest contributors to a global network of artificial intelligence (AI) research publishing.
  • Like K–12 education outcomes, innovation capabilities and the STEM labor force are not uniform across the United States. U.S. patenting activity is concentrated along the coasts and in parts of the Great Lakes region, Texas, and the Rocky Mountains, a distribution similar to that of STEM employment and KTI industry production.

NSB is required to prepare and deliver the S&E Indicators report to Congress every two years. NSB notes, “The data described in Indicators are a quantitative summary of the scope, quality, and vitality of the S&E enterprise over time and within a global context. These data are intended to contribute to an understanding of the current environment and to inform the development of future policies. The reports do not model the dynamics of the S&E enterprise nor forecast future outcomes. Also, Indicators is factual and policy neutral. It does not offer policy options nor make policy recommendations.”

The report emphasizes, “Rather than predominating across all elements of STI, the United States is distinguished by the strength of U.S. universities as destinations for international students, its highly cited and collaborative S&E research, and its global leadership in KTI services.”

There’s a wealth of data available in the report. Happy hunting.

Link to NSB S&E Indicators Report, https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsb20243

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