OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook 2021

Times of Crisis and Opportunity

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In immediate responses to the COVID-19 crisis, science and innovation are playing essential roles in providing a better scientific understanding of the virus, as well as in the development of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. Both the public and private sectors have poured billions of dollars into these efforts, accompanied by unprecedented levels of global cooperation. However, the economic crisis that is currently unfolding is expected to severely curtail research and innovation expenditures in firms, while debt-laden governments will face multiple, competing demands for financial support. These developments threaten to cause long-term damage to innovation systems at a time when science and innovation are most needed to deal with the climate emergency, meet the Sustainable Development Goals, and accelerate the digital transformation. Governments will need to take measures to protect their innovation systems as part of their stimulus and recovery packages, but should also use these as opportunities for reforms. In particular, science, technology and innovation (STI) policy should shift towards supporting a more ambitious agenda of system transformation that promotes a managed transition to more sustainable, equitable and resilient futures.

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Challenges and new demands on the academic research workforce

Academic career structures and the allocation processes for research funding largely reflect merit-based competition among individuals, which has proven its effectiveness over time in promoting excellence in fundamental research. However, concern is growing about how these structures and processes affect the precarity and attractiveness of research careers and generate a lack of diversity in the scientific workforce. There is an expectation that science will not only produce highly-cited publications, but also rapidly translate into societal benefits and solutions to global challenges – such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The emphasis on individual disciplinary excellence and short-term outputs fits uneasily alongside the need for more transdisciplinary research, more novelty and risk-taking in research, and more data-intensive research. This chapter reviews recent OECD analysis of the challenges within science systems, many of which are accentuated by COVID-19, and what these imply for policy measures to build a diverse, appropriately skilled and motivated science workforce.



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