A comparative overview of STEM discipline-based public research funding in China and the United States

Patricia Akamp


This paper aims to expose a narrow, yet relevant aspect of funding changes in higher education in China, through a discipline-based overview of the country’s public research funding. It makes specific comparisons with the United States (U.S.) in order to explore how research funding has changed in the first decade of the century in light of the worldwide trend of investment growth in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), considering China’s centralized approach to service provision. Through documentary analysis, findings indicate that China did follow the trend of prioritizing STEM subjects for research funding, opposed to those in the social sciences, humanities and arts (SSHA), while aligning them to set economic goals (as seen in the last three Five-Year plans). Even though China and the U.S. have had separate drivers at different times to justify increased investment earmarked for STEM subject areas, both countries hold the common aspiration of being the scientific leading reference in the world, and their policies draw from the assumption that this can only be achieved through further development in science and technology, even if in detriment of funds for SSHA. However, from a discipline-based perspective, by following U.S.’ research funding policies, China may be creating dependency paths for SSHA, as already seen in the U.S.

Key words: research funding, China, U.S., SSHA, STEM, resource dependence theory.

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