Investing in scientific research and development (R&D) is a forward-looking strategy implemented by a myriad of countries around the world, albeit with varying degrees of funding and resources. In the case of Latin America’s top five economies, Brazil stands out with a level of investment that quadruples that of Mexico, while Chile triples Colombia’s and more than doubles Argentina’s.
How much each country spends on R&D and how many researchers were working across the region in 2021 was revealed recently in a ranking from Austral University in Buenos Aires. The report is based on figures originally compiled by Argentina’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation.
Each country’s R&D spending was calculated by aggregating both public and private investments and by comparing them to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of each countr.
Brazil in Pole Position
As per the findings of the Austral University, Brazil allocated 1.17% of GDP to R&D in 2021, encompassing public and private sector contributions. This figure implies a slight drop compared to the World Bank’s database, which was last updated in 2019 (1.21% of GDP).
In Argentina, research and development spending accounted for 0.52% of GDP in 2021.
In Uruguay, R&D spending stood at 0.45% of GDP.
In Chile, combined public and private funding for R&D projects represented 0.34% of GDP.
As for Mexico, the country channeled 0.3% of its GDP to this purpose, while Colombia allocated 0.29%, Peru 0.17%, and Paraguay 0.16%.
The Austral University’s report not only delves into the Latin American context but also makes international comparisons. For instance, Israel devotes 5.44% of its GDP to R&D, South Korea 4.81%, the United States 3.45%, Portugal 1.62%, and Spain 1.41%
When considering the amount of researchers per 1,000 working-age inhabitants, Argentina emerges as the leader among Latin America’s main economies, with 2.73 researchers for every 1,000 individuals.
Brazil is in second place with 1.68 researchers, and Chile third position with 1.17 researchers per 1,000 workers. Meanwhile, in Mexico, the ratio stands at 0.68.
Despite its abundance of scientists, Argentina records the lowest level of investment per researcher among the mentioned Latin American countries, while Colombia features at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Austral University conducted this comparison using the US dollar, adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), allowing for a meaningful cross-country comparison.
In Colombia, the annual investment per researcher totaled 394,978 PPP in 2021, whereas in Argentina, it was significantly lower at 95,790 PPP, amounting to less than a quarter of the former.
Luis Domingo Dambra, Dean of the Business Science (FCE) department at Austral University, said: “We could infer that the allure of a research career in Argentina may be diminishing, given the minimal investment per researcher. This situation raises the possibility of a brain drain—where well-trained individuals might seek opportunities abroad, entailing substantial training periods and significant investments elsewhere.”