R&D spending in the UK. Including analysis of R&D by region and industry, and international comparisons of R&D.

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Research and development (R&D) is systematic work undertaken to increase the stock of knowledge.

Total R&D

In the UK in 2017, total expenditure on R&D was £34.8 billion, £527 per head, or the equivalent of 1.7% of GDP.

R&D investment has risen steadily over the past few decades, from £17.6 billion in 1981 to the current total of £34.8 billion (in 2017 prices). This is a real terms increase of 94%.

But as a proportion of GDP, R&D expenditure has fallen over this period (it was the equivalent of 2.0% of GDP in 1981).

The government have a target for total R&D investment to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

R&D spending

Sectors performing R&D

R&D performed by businesses accounted for 68% of all R&D expenditure in 2017 (£23.6 billion).

The higher education sector performed R&D worth £8.2 billion or 23% of the total.

The government sector (including the funding councils) performed £2.2 billion of R&D, 6% of the total.

R&D by sector

R&D by region

R&D performed in the South East of England in 2017 totalled £6.7 billion, 19% of the total. R&D performed in the South East, the East of England and London accounted for 52% of all UK R&D.

Per head, R&D expenditure in the East of England is the highest: £962 per head. The figure for the whole UK is £527 per head. In Wales, per head R&D expenditure is £238.

R&D by region

R&D by sector

In 2018, the pharmaceutical industry performed the most R&D in the UK – worth £4.5 billion. The automotive manufacturing industry performed the second most R&D, worth £3.8 billion.

In 2018, the miscellaneous business services and technical testing sector employed the most the most people in R&D related roles: 27,000. The pharmaceuticals sector had the second highest R&D related employment: 25,000.

In the whole of the UK, 251,000 people are employed in R&D related roles.

International comparisons

The UK R&D expenditure of 1.7% of GDP is below the OECD average of 2.4%.

R&D expenditure in Germany is the equivalent of 3.0% of GDP, in the US it is 2.8% and in France it is 2.2%.

  • Commons Research Briefing SN04223
  • Author: Chris Rhodes
  • Topics: Sciences

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