Reform of China's science and technology system needed

01 Aug 2013 19:01:00.000

PA 255/13

Despite more money, better trained talent and sophisticated equipment, China’s domestic innovation system is still underperforming and political will is needed if the country is to produce breakthroughs worthy of a Nobel Prize.

That’s the opinion of a team of experts led by The University of Nottingham whose policy forum article is published on Thursday 1 August 2013 in the prestigious academic journal Science.

Dr Cong Cao, from the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, said: “Research and business sectors have been disconnected for decades, with few research results turned into innovative technology and products. With few exceptions, Chinese enterprises depend on foreign sources for core technologies.

Click here for full story
“The leadership is fully aware of the problems and knows how to tackle them if it desires. But it is partially responsible for many of the problems and reform may not be in its best interest.”

The article, in collaboration with Dr Ning Li from the University of Guam and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dr Xia Li from Shanghai Jiaotong University and Dr Li Liu from Tsinghua University, describes the interwoven roots of problems at the three key levels of decision making; from a lack of coordination at macro level; a malfunction of the funding system at the meso level; to flawed evaluations and incentives at micro level.

The research team argue that the Leading Group on Science, Technology and Education (LGSTE), which studies and reviews major S&T and education policies and programmes and coordinates important intergovernmental activities, is ad hoc in nature. Chaired by the premier, they say issues on science, innovation and education are probably less important than others in his portfolio. And the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) is weak in terms of importance and clout.

They highlight the lack of a uniform, national quality control standard and little exchange of information about research funded across different agencies leads to duplication. And say China’s research culture gives too much advantage to established researchers and those who maintain close relations with government officials, increasing research-funding inequality and concentration.

They also describe an overwhelming ‘publish-or-perish’ orientation that has become an inappropriate yardstick in the evaluation of research programs, institutions and scientists motivating them to publish for the sake of publications and grants rather than finding genuine solution to societal problems.

The solution, they say, would be to replace MOST with a new agency akin to the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and appoint a national science advisor under the State Council. Another resolution would be to maintain the current institutional setting of the LGSTE and the MOST while creating a smaller Office of Science and Technology (OST) directly under the State Council, similar to the US OSTP.

Dr Cao said: “It remains to be seen whether coordination of China’s S&T could be resolved without institutional change. Challenges in governance of China’s S&T system have existed for so long and the inertia to maintain status quo is so strong. It is time for leadership to show political will.”

As one of the leading scholars in the studies of China’s science, technology, and innovation, Dr Cao is the author of China’s Scientific Elite (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), a study of those Chinese scientists holding the elite membership in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and China's Emerging Technological Edge: Assessing the Role of High-End Talent (with Denis Fred Simon, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), the first in 40 years to address these critical issues surrounding the quality, quantity, and effective utilization of China’s human resources in science and technology.

For a copy of the full article, Title: Reforming China’s S&T System
Manuscript Number: science.1234206, please contact Dr Cong Cao, +44 (0)115 846 7948,

— Ends —

For up to the minute media alerts, follow us on Twitter or find out more on our Press Office blog

Notes to editors: The University of Nottinghamhas 42,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It was ‘one of the first to embrace a truly international approach to higher education’, according to the Sunday Times University Guide 2013. It is also one of the most popular universities among graduate employers, one of the world’s greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the QS World Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its research into global food security.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fundraising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Cong Cao,
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

Additional resources

No additional resources for this article

Related articles

How successful Chinese entrepreneurs really think

Published Date
Thursday 12th January 2012

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798