The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) is excited to announce its annual Spring Data Refresh aimed at filling gaps and increasing coverage for SDG indicators related to education and research and development (R&D). All data are now available in our data browser, with education data for SDG 4 also accessible via our SDG 4 Data Explorer. Please refer to the background information documents for education  and R&D for all details regarding this Data Refresh.


Since September 2018, the UIS transitioned to a single education data release in September each year, featuring new national and regional data. National data are also updated in February, completing the UIS publication of educational data for surveys conducted in the previous reference year.

For the February 2024 refresh, the UIS has added 112,000 national data points to its database, with 76% dedicated to SDG indicators and 24% for Other Policy Relevant Indicators OPRI produced by the UIS. 

The significant increase in the SDG database is mainly attributed to indicator 4.4.3 76%, along with indicators 4.1.4 9%, 4.3.2 6%, and 4.1.1, 4.1.5, 4.2.2, 4.6.2, and 4.5.2 2% each. For the current data release, the UIS has expanded the data sources for indicator 4.4.3 using the ILO repository on educational attainment by ISCED-11 levels, sex and/or urban and rural disaggregation. Not only has the number of data points significantly increased, but most importantly there are 21 new countries with data added to the UIS database from 174 to 195 countries. This addition of data points has positively impacted the coverage of indicators 4.4.3 improved by 18%, 4.3.2 improved by 4%, 4.c.7 improved by 2%, and 4.1.0 improved by 2%. 

More countries are now opting to use their national population data in compliance with the new population data policy instead of data from the UN Population Division UNPD. With the recent addition of four member states India, Niger, Saudi Arabia, and Bolivia, Plurinational State of, the February 2024 Data Refresh showcases indicators, based on national population data for 61 countries. 

Lastly, the UIS has updated cross-national education indicators with new ISCED 2011 mappings for 52 countries and ISCED 2011 diagrams for 70 countries.

Be sure to read the blog by UIS Director Dr. Silvia Montoya for insights on the new data and the remaining challenges.

Research and Development R&D

The UIS, as the custodian agency, collects data and produces two key indicators to monitor progress towards SDG target 9.5 – i SDG 9.5.1: Research and development R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP, and ii SDG 9.5.2: Researchers in full-time equivalent per million inhabitants. In addition, UIS produces a set of selected gender-disaggregated R&D indicators, which are used in cross-cutting themes related to SDG 5 on gender equality.

The Spring 2024 release primarily includes new country-level data for 30 countries for the reference year 2022, which have participated in the UIS 2023 R&D Statistics Survey as well as new data obtained for 12 countries from the Ibero-American Network of Science and Technology Indicators RICYT, for the reference year 2021. The country-level data obtained from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD, and the Statistical Office of the European Union Eurostat, as well as regional averages published for the reference year 2021, are still based on the UIS October 2023 Data Refresh.

Data show that:

  • Trends in global expenditure on R&D seem to have returned to pre-pandemic levels SDG 9.5.1: Since 2015, R&D expenditure worldwide had continued to grow with an average annual growth rate of 5.0% when adjusted for inflation till 2019. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this trend slowed down to 3.2% in 2020 but returned to previous pre-pandemic levels in 2021 by standing at a 5.9% growth.

In relative terms, at the global level, during 2015 to 2021, R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP has climbed from 1.72% to 1.93%. Additionally, it saw a significant increase from 1.83% in 2019 to 1.95% in 2020, primarily driven by increased R&D investments and substantial declines in GDP. Subsequently, with the economic rebound in 2021, where growth in GDP outpaced the growth in R&D investments, R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP slightly declined to 1.93% in 2021.  When examining regional results, Europe and North America, and Eastern and South-Eastern Asia continue to show the highest levels of GDP spent on R&D across the regions, rising from 2.26% to 2.59%, and from 2.05% to 2.33% respectively between 2015 and 2021. While Northern Africa and Western Asia show a marked increase from 0.77% to 0.98%, it decreased in Latin America and the Caribbean from 0.70% to 0.55%, in Central and Southern Asia from 0.59% to 0.55% and in Sub-Saharan Africa from 0.36% to 0.33% over the same period.

  • Global research workforce continues to grow, with wide disparities among regions SDG 9.5.2: The number of researchers per million inhabitants worldwide has risen from 1,143 in 2015 to 1,352 in 2021, with Europe and Northern America, and Australia and New Zealand, continuing to lead by employing 4,050 and 4,696 researchers per million inhabitants respectively in 2021. Among the remaining regions, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia stood at 1,821 researchers per million inhabitants being the only region to surpass the world average. Northern Africa and Western Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Central and Southern Asia, represented 1,005, 625, and 317 researchers per million inhabitants respectively. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the figure has been substantially lower, standing at 96 researchers per million inhabitants in 2021.
  • Women continue to be under-represented in the research workforce: Globally women accounted for only around 31.5% of all researchers in 2021 based on headcount measurements. At regional and sub-regional levels, the share of women researchers also displayed considerable heterogeneity. Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean were leading, having reached the highest share of women researchers, at 46.5% and 44.4% respectively in 2021. This was closely followed by Northern Africa 43.3%, and South-Eastern Asia 41.2%. Around one in three researchers was a woman in Europe and Northern America 35.3%, and Western Asia 35.1%, exceeding the world average, with Sub-Saharan Africa standing at 31.4%. On the other hand, the share of women researchers was lagging far behind in Southern Asia and Eastern Asia, reporting 25.9% and 22.1% respectively in 2021.