The National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) was established on February 14, 1986. It is an institution managed by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China, tasked with the administration of the National Natural Science Fund from the Central Government. Since its establishment, NSFC has comprehensively introduced and implemented a rigorous and objective merit-review system to fulfill its mission of supporting basic research, fostering talented researchers, developing international cooperation and promoting socioeconomic development (1). With the support from NSFC and other scientific programs, remarkable growth has been registered in different scientific fields. In 2017, 64.54% of SCI papers published by Chinese researches noted the statement of funding from NSFC.
Due to the important role of NSFC for the support of scientific research, it is widely concerned and focused by numerous scientists and researchers. Therefore, we conducted this study to analyze the projects funded by NSFC during the past 5 years of 2014–2018.
The funding by NSFC continuously increased rapidly since its establishment, owing to the allocation mainly from the Central Government budget, as well as partly form the local governments and large state-owned enterprises (7). Recently, the annual amount has reached more than 20 billion CNY which is still on the rise (Figure 1).
Projects types and proportions
From 2014 to 2018, multifarious projects types were set up by NSFC to support scientific researches of different level and multiple dimensions. The proportions of each project type is shown in Figure 2.
Detailed information of project types
The General Program supports scientists to do basic research on bottom-up based topics within the funding scope of NSFC to conduct innovative research and promote a balanced, coordinated and sustained development of all disciplines.
From 2014 to 2018, NSFC received 379,156 applications and funded 85,726 General Program projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 1.
Young Scientists Fund
The Young Scientists Fund supports young scientists to freely choose their research topics within the funding scope of NSFC to conduct basic research, fosters the ability of young scientists to independently undertake research projects and conduct creative research, stimulates young scientists’ creative thinking and trains backup talents for basic research.
From 2014 to 2018,NSFC received 365,374 applications and funded 83,882 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 2.
Fund for Less Developed Regions
The Fund for Less Developed Regions supports scientists in specified regions of China to conduct creative research within the funding scope of NSFC, so as to foster and support researchers in the regions, to stabilize and gather outstanding talents to facilitate the construction of the regional innovation system as well as the social and economic development of the regions.
From 2014 to 2018, NSFC received 74,191 applications and funded 14,406 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 3.
Excellent Young Scientists Fund
The Excellent Young Scientists Fund supports young scholars with good achievements in basic research to conduct innovative research in areas on their own choice, so as to promote fast growth of creative young talents and foster a number of outstanding talents on the international science frontiers.
From 2014 to 2018,NSFC received 21,535 applications and funded 1,999 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 4.
National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars
The National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars supports young scholars who have made outstanding achievements in basic research to select their own research directions and conduct creative research, so as to speed up the growth of young scientific talents, attract overseas talents and foster a group of prominent academic pacemakers in the forefront of international science and technology.
From 2014 to 2018,NSFC received 12,271 applications and funded 991 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 5.
The Key Program supports researchers to conduct in-depth, systematic and innovative research in directions with sound research basis or where new growth points of scientific disciplines might emerge, so as to promote disciplinary development and breakthroughs in important areas or scientific frontiers. Key Program projects should follow the principle of limited objectives, limited research scope and focused goals, pay attention to inter-crossing disciplines, make effective use of existing major scientific research bases at national and ministerial levels, and conduct substantive international cooperation and exchange.
From 2014 to 2018,NSFC received 14,988 applications and funded 3,210 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 6.
Major Program serves the major needs of the scientific frontiers, national economic, social and S&T development and national security, deploys in advance, conducts multidisciplinary research, and plays the supporting and guiding role of improving the capability of indigenous innovation in China’s basic research.
From 2014 to 2018,NSFC received 242 applications and funded 142 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 7.
Projects of Major Research Plan
The Major Research Plan focuses on key basic scientific issues with strategic importance to the nation and major frontier areas and gives high priority identified on the basis of the capability and advantages in the country. Rather than individual project, the Major Research Plan is designed to be a program cluster which contains a number of projects with relatively identical objectives for innovative research resources integrity in order to explore the possible breakthroughs in the identified areas.
From 2014 to 2018,NSFC received 13,212 applications and funded 2,515 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 8.
Science Fund for Creative Research Groups
The Science Fund for Creative Research Groups supports prominent middle-aged and young scientists to work as academic leaders and PIs on creative research focusing on key research issues, and fosters research groups with international influence.
From 2014 to 2018, NSFC received 1,332 applications and funded 329 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 9.
Basic Science Center Program
The Basic Science Center Program expects to concentrate and integrate domestic excellent scientific research teams. Aiming at the international forefront of science, this project will give long-term and stable support for those high-level academic leaders to do concentrated research and exploration. With the advanced deployment, this project is expected to reach scientific frontier breakthrough and harvest a series of outstanding original achievements with significant influence in the world.
From 2016 to 2018,NSFC received 30 applications and funded 11 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 10.
The Joint Funds set up by NSFC and other relevant government departments, provincial governments and industrial sectors aim at supporting basic research in agreed scientific areas. The joint funds are designed to play a guiding role of the National Natural Science Fund, guide and integrate social resources in basic research, promote cooperation of relevant departments, industries and regions with universities and research institutions, foster scientific and technological talents and enhance China’s indigenous innovation capabilities in relevant research areas, industries and regions.
From 2014 to 2018, NSFC received 22,090 applications and funded 3,644 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 11.
Joint Research Fund for Overseas Chinese Scholars and Scholars in Hong Kong and Macao
In order to take advantage of the overseas (including Hong Kong and Macao) resources in science and technology and encourage overseas excellent young scholars to contribute to the development of basic research in mainland China, NSFC sets up the Joint Research Fund for Overseas Chinese Scholars and Scholars in Hong Kong and Macao to support excellent overseas (including Hong Kong and Macao) Chinese scholars under the age of 50 to conduct high-level joint research with scientists in mainland China.
From 2014 to 2018,NSFC received 1,993 applications and funded 658 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 12.
International (Regional) Cooperation and Exchange Programs
In order to improve the quality of China’s scientific research and its international competitiveness, the International (Regional) Cooperation and Exchange Programs aim at funding Chinese scientists to conduct substantial cooperation with their international collaborators in science frontiers and leverage international scientific and technological resources on the basis of “equal cooperation, mutual benefits, and equal sharing of research results”. This program consists of three subtypes: International (Regional) Cooperation Research Program, International (Regional) Exchange Programs, and Research Fund for International Young Scientist.
The detailed information of each subtypes is shown in Tables 13-15.
Special Fund for Research on National Major Research Instruments
The Special Fund for Research on National Major Research Instruments aims to encourage and foster the exploratory research and development of instruments with creative ideas, and major research instruments and equipment with original creative ideas, which should be based on frontiers of science and national needs and guided by scientific targets, so as to provide new means and tools for scientific research and enhance indigenous innovation in China. This program could be applied independent or by the recommendation of scientific administrative departments.
From 2014 to 2018, NSFC received 3,357 applications and funded 423 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 16.
Tianyuan Fund for mathematics
Tianyuan Fund for mathematics is a special fund designed to integrate collective wisdom of mathematicians, explore funding method that suits the unique features of mathematics, and make China strong in mathematics. This fund supports researchers to conduct research according to the features and need of mathematics department, foster young talents, promote academic exchange, optimize research environment, disseminate mathematical culture and thus strengthening innovation for China in mathematics.
From 2014 to 2018, NSFC received 2,916 applications and funded 933 projects. The detailed information of each year is shown in Table 17.
In the past years, NSFC had provided strong support to basic scientific research in all fronts and provided a mechanism for fair competition. In the future, NSFC will stress on the development of the following aspects including innovative research, talents cultivation, international cooperation and management of excellence. NSFC expects to be a key contributor to the progress and prosperity of the basic research of China, and meanwhile to grow along with it.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.
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- NSFC Annual report in 2014. NSFC official website.
- NSFC Annual report in 2015. NSFC official website.
- NSFC Annual report in 2016. NSFC official website.
- NSFC Annual report in 2017. NSFC official website.
- NSFC Annual report in 2018. NSFC official website.
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