NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

China's "Great Leap Forward" in Science and Engineering

Richard B. Freeman, Wei Huang

NBER Working Paper No. 21081
Issued in April 2015
NBER Program(s):Economics of Education, Labor Studies, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

In the past two decades China leaped from bit player in global science and engineering (S&E) to become the world's largest source of S&E graduates and the second largest spender on R&D and second largest producer of scientific papers. As a latecomer to modern science and engineering, China trailed the US and other advanced countries in the quality of its universities and research but was improving both through the mid-2010s. This paper presents evidence that China's leap benefited greatly from the country's positive response to global opportunities to educate many of its best and brightest overseas and from the deep educational and research links it developed with the US. The findings suggest that global mobility of people and ideas allowed China to reach the scientific and technological frontier much faster and more efficiently.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21081

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