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Korea Ranks 1st in the World in Terms of R&D Spending to GDP Ratio
Korea's R&D Investment Grew 8.8% in 2018
Korea Ranks 1st in the World in Terms of R&D Spending to GDP Ratio
  • By Jung Suk-yee
  • December 19, 2019, 10:08
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South Korea ranks first in the world in terms of the ratio of R&D investment to gross domestic product (GDP).

South Korea recorded the highest ratio of R&D investment to gross domestic product (GDP) in the world last year.

The Ministry of Science and ICT released the results of its 2018 survey on R&D activities in the government, public and private sectors at the National Science & Technology Commission’s steering committee meeting held in Sejong City on Dec. 18.

The survey was conducted on 61,257 institutions (public research institutions, universities and corporations) in Korea as of 2018 to analyze their R&D investments and manpower.

The survey found that Korea’s total R&D investment reached 85.73 trillion won (US$77.9 billion) in 2018, up 8.8 percent from a year ago. Korea ranked fifth among member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The number one spot went to the United States, which spent US$543.2 billion in R&D.

Korea ranked first in terms of the ratio of R&B spending to GDP with 4.81 percent, up 0.26 percentage point from a year ago and higher than Israel’s 4.54 percent. The nation retained its number one spot for the second year in a row.


The increase in Korea’s total R&D investment is attributable to a surge in private sector R&D investment for the recent two years (2017-2018). Private corporations witnessed increases in sales for the recent two years (10.3 percent in 2017 and 8.0 percent in 2018) and expanded R&D investment. The ratio of R&D spending to sales volume rose by 3.2 percent in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

R&D investment of the private sector totaled 65.70 trillion won (76.6 percent), more than three times the combined investment of the central government and the public sector, which stood at 18.36 trillion won (21.4 percent). Corporations invested 68.83 trillion won (80.3 percent) in R&D, accounting for the largest share of the total.

By corporation type, conglomerates, which spent 43.82 trillion won in R&D, accounted for the largest proportion with 63.7 percent, followed by mid-sized companies with 13.9 percent, venture companies with 11.5 percent and small and medium-sized companies with 10.9 percent.

In addition, the total number of R&D researchers stood at 514,170 people last year, up 6.5 percent (31,374 people) from the previous year. The number of full-time researchers rose 6.6 percent from a year earlier, reaching 25,270 and taking the 6th spot in the world.

The number of researchers per 1,000 economically active people and per 1,000 people stood at 14.7 and 7.9, respectively, up 0.8 and 0.5 people each from a year ago. The figures were quite higher than those of other major nations.

The number of researchers at corporations was 368,237, accounting for the largest proportion with 71.6 percent, followed by universities (108,529) and public research institutions (37,404). Especially the number of researchers at corporations recorded the largest increase of 24,870, or 7.2 percent, from a year ago.


Korea’s R&D spending per researcher averaged 209.93 million won in 2018, which represented an increase of 4.27 million won from a year earlier, but was still lower than those of other major advanced nations except for the United States, China and the United Kingdom.