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Science and technology

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Scientific research and innovation improves the lives of Canadians and makes our country competitive internationally. But it’s not all robots and rocket science—in addition to large research projects, thousands of smaller studies and projects are continually increasing Canada’s intellectual property output.

A major goal of scientific research is being the first to discover new technologies or ideas. Countries that are highly innovative can gain a competitive advantage by being the first to reap the economic benefits of new scientific advancements. Analyzing a country’s innovation levels can be tricky, however, since they can be difficult to quantify or measure.

Patents and articles: Indicators of innovation

Patents are one measure of innovation. They help to spread new scientific knowledge and to encourage new business growth and product development. The number of patent applications have generally been increasing in all areas of scientific endeavour, suggesting that innovation in traditional fields—such as mechanical engineering and organic chemistry—is as robust as that in newer fields like biotechnology and artificial intelligence. In 2003, almost 40,000 new patent applications were filed with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, and almost 12,000 were granted.

Chart: Patent applications and grantsScientific articles are also a key indicator of innovation. The number of science and engineering articles published by Canadian authors remained relatively flat during the most recent 14-year reporting period of 1988 to 2001. In 2001, the total number of articles was 22,626, down from a high of 24,583 in 1996. Comparatively, the total number articles across the world increased almost 40% during the same period, driven mainly by growth in Western Europe and Asia. Articles from the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and France accounted for nearly 60% of all science and engineering articles published in 2001.

In 2004, private industry, Canadian universities, hospitals and government laboratories spent $25.2 billion on research and development (R&D). This amount, called the gross expenditures of research and development (GERD), refers to all monies spent on R&D performed within the country in a given year. GERD is a key benchmark for determining the research intensity in a given country and for making national and international comparisons. Higher levels of R&D funding are expected to reflect the creation of more scientific knowledge.

R&D is defined as creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of humans, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications.

GERD includes R&D performed within a country and funded from abroad but excludes payments sent abroad for R&D performed in other countries.

An indicator of science and technology (S&T) activities, the GERD is a key benchmark for determining the research intensity in a given country and for making national and international comparisons. Higher levels of R&D funding are expected to reflect the creation of more scientific knowledge.

The most recent GERD figures for countries around the world show that Canada ranked ninth in 2003, a slight increase from the tenth place ranking eight years before. The higher ratio on R&D spending as a percentage of GDP exhibited in other countries can be attributed in part, to greater defence R&D expenditures.

Over this same period, Canada’s investment in R&D grew from 1.72% to 1.95% of gross domestic product, a 13% increase.

Keeping pace with research and development

Chart: Gross expenditures of research and development (GERD), annual variationThe federal government is the principal source of R&D funds in Canada. In 2004/2005, the government’s spending on science and technology (S&T) was estimated at $9.1 billion. Spending on S&T (which includes R&D monies) remained a stable 3.6% of the total federal budget through most of the 1990s, then climbed to 4% in 1998/1999 and to an estimated 5% in 2004/2005.

More than 65 different federal departments and agencies either perform S&T activities or have budgets to fund these activities. Four organizations account for one-third of the federal government’s total S&T expenditures: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the National Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Environment Canada.

More than one million employees work in S&T jobs. Even when the national unemployment rate reached 11.4% in 1993, unemployment in S&T occupations was considerably less at 6%. In 2004, the national unemployment rate was 7.2%, but only 3.8% for scientists and engineers.

Demand for science workers strong worldwide

Chart: Doctorate degrees in science and technologyBut this is not an isolated Canadian phenomenon; the demand for S&T workers is strong worldwide. In Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, employment in science and technology occupations grew approximately twice as fast as overall employment from 1995 to 2000. Canada, however, produces a smaller proportion of university graduates in life and physical sciences, mathematics and engineering than any other G8 nation, excluding the United States (2000). Of the more than 3,000 doctoral graduates in 2004, 21% graduated from biological science programs and 13% from engineering programs.

Attracting foreign workers from abroad is one way to address this shortage. In 2001, more than two times as many immigrants as Canadian-born population were working in engineering and natural sciences. In fact, one out of three men who immigrated to Canada in the 1990s with postsecondary credentials had trained in a technology-related field such as engineering, computer science or applied mathematics at the university level, or electronic technologies at the college or trade school level.