China's STEM Research Environment

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Xueying Han, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA
The Chinese central government has invested heavily in ‘indigenous innovation’ over the past decade in hopes of creating a Chinese economy that will have decreased reliance on foreign technologies. With policies such as the Thousand Talent’s Program to bring back Chinese scientists and researchers from abroad and heavy investment by the state to promote innovation in high-tech sectors, China has seen a rise in not only the number of scientific parks, but also in patent applications, and scientific publications. According to the 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators published by the National Science Foundation, China’s global share of scientific publications is second to only the United States. Unfortunately, cases of scientific misconduct from Chinese researchers have increased in tandem with publication counts. China’s research environment, particularly that of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, has been heavily criticized as numerous cases of fabrication, falsification, and academic misconduct have come to light. There are, however, no comprehensive studies on China’s current STEM research environment. Questions such as “what type of conditions are Chinese researchers working under,” “what is the funding situation in China”, and “what is graduate education like in China” go largely unanswered. This study provides the most comprehensive overview on China’s STEM research environment to date, based on 502 completed on-line surveys and 17 follow-up interviews. Approximately 18,500 Chinese STEM scholars from the top 25 universities in China were contacted to participate in an online survey about China’s research environment. Results indicate that academic researchers in China are working under high-stress conditions and that China’s research environment still leaves much to be desired. Researchers in China are under 3-year contracts in which individuals must meet very strict requirements to receive renewal contracts or be at risk of being let-go or having their salary docked. Forty-five percent of survey respondents indicated they are extremely dissatisfied or dissatisfied with China’s overall research environment, and only 18% of respondents indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied. The funding situation appears to be slightly better as respondents indicated that the National Natural Science Foundation of China is predominantly unbiased and based solely on the peer-review process. Large national funding programs such as the 973 and 863 programs, however, were deemed to be highly unfair in which having connections (i.e., guanxi or关系) is a necessity to receive funding.