The world of S&T is undergoing rapid changes along trends that emerged in the late 1990s. Increased government recognition of the importance of knowledge-intensive segments of their economies often led to the implementation of strategic policies to promote their development, and the expansion of education and advanced training in support of this goal. MNCs, seeking new markets and a broad range of operating efficiencies and responding to opportunities abroad, increasingly took advantage of and drove these developments, resulting in a shift in the epicenter of world S&T activities, led by China's emergence, toward several rapidly growing Asian economies.

These pronounced shifts have occurred over a relatively short time and have had a differential impact on mature, developed countries. In Asia, China's rapid rise economically and across the S&T spectrum has made it the world's second-largest economy, and certain other smaller Asian economies are increasingly prominent on the world stage. By comparison Japan appears stagnant and, in fact, has lost world market share in a number of S&T areas. The EU's world position has also degraded, including in areas linked to high-technology trade. The United States is broadly holding its own, thanks, in part, to its large, mature, and diversified S&T system. But it, too, faces robust challenges affecting its education, workforce, R&D, and S&T systems that arise from the far-reaching and rapid worldwide changes.

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