Research and development, innovation, access to information and communication technologies are key drivers of the economy of knowledge and their role is fundamental in the development of European strategies. Indeed, among the priorities of the Europe 2020 strategy, adopted by the European Union from 2010, there is the implementation of concrete actions at a European and national level, to foster a smart economic growth characterized by investments in the education, research and innovation system.
In 2018, in Italy, the total R&D expenditure carried out by enterprises, public institutions, private non-profit institutions and universities amounted to 25.2 billion euros, it increased by 6% compared to the previous year. The R&D intensity (R&D expenditure as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product) increased from 1.37% in 2017 to 1.42% in 2018.
In 2018, the number of people working in the R&D sector (measured in terms of “full-time equivalent units”) amounted to 345,625 units (+8.8%, compared to 2017). 65.1% of R&D employees worked in the private sector (enterprises and private non-profit institutions), 23.5% in the Higher education sector and 11.4% in public institutions.
Over the period 2016-2018, 55.7% of enterprises in the industrial and service sector with at least 10 persons employed have introduced some innovations. Compared to the previous period 2014-2016, the propensity to innovate has increased greatly (+7 percentage points). The innovation propensity increased largely in small and medium enterprises. Industry was still the most innovative sector. Large parts of enterprises (49.7%) were success innovators (i.e. enterprises, which succeeded in introducing at least one product or process innovation) and 21.6% were engaged in cooperative agreements for innovation. In 2018, the innovation expenditure per person employed (measured taking into account the product-process innovative enterprises only) amounted to 9,000 euros (+7,800 euros, compared to 2016).
In 2020, the share of enterprises with at least 10 persons employed, which had their own website or pages on the Internet (73.1%) to enhance their business, increased by one percentage point.
In 2018, in Italy the share of graduates in tertiary education, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) amounted to 15.1 per thousand of population aged 20-29 and showed a slight but constant increase (+0.6 points, compared to 2017). The increase was higher for males (+0.9) than for females (+0.4), therefore, the gender gap widened, reaching almost 6 points (18.0 for males and 12.1 for females).
In 2020, the percentage of households with broadband access to home Internet increased by three percentage points (77.8%). 73.3 percent of the population aged 6 and older used the Internet. Among young people aged between 20 and 24 years, 96% were connected to the Web, 76.8% of men and 70% of women used the Internet. The gender gap was not significant in the age group up to 44 years, moreover among young people aged 15-19 years, women showed an advantage over men.
In 2018, 35.2% of the Italian R&D expenditure was concentrated in the North-West, followed by the Northeast (26.6%). The R&D expenditure in the Centre accounted for 23.7%, while in the South and Islands it amounted to 14.5%. The incidence of the total R&D expenditure on regional GDP was higher in Piemonte (2.17%) and Emilia-Romagna (2.03%). Lazio (1.74%), Friuli-Venezia Giulia (1.65%), Autonomous Province of Trento (1.54%) and Toscana (1.55%) showed values above the national average.
Considering the business R&D expenditure to GDP ratio, Piemonte (1.80%), Emilia-Romagna (1.55%) Lombardia and Veneto (1.01%) were top ranking. In the South and Islands, the highest values were recorded in Molise (0.94%), where it was close to the national average (0.90%), and in Campania (0.60%).
In 2018, in Italy, on average, the number of employees per thousand inhabitants in the R&D sector was equal to 5.7. In the North, almost all the Regions, with the exception of Valle d’Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste and the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen, showed values close to (or above) the national average. The highest values were recorded in Emilia-Romagna (10.1) and in the Autonomous Province of Trento (8.1). The Regions of the Centre, with the exception of Umbria, showed values higher or slightly lower than the national average, while the values recorded in all the Regions of the South and Islands were significantly lower than the national average.
In the period 2016-2018 Veneto, Emilia and Lombardia were still top ranking for the propensity to innovation, while nearly all the regions in the South (with the exception of Abruzzo, where the share of innovative enterprises was higher than the national average) and Islands showed lower values. Sardegna, Molise and Valle d’Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste ranked at the bottom.
The share of Southern enterprises, which used the website (60.7%), grew, therefore the gap between the South and Centre-North reduced by 4 percentage points, but it was still significant (16 percentage points). In 2020, in the Centre, the share of enterprises using the website for their businesses (68.7) was still below the national average, while in the North it was the driving force.
In 2018, in Italy the share of graduates in tertiary education, science, mathematics, computing, engineering, manufacturing and construction (STEM) increased in all the Regions except for Valle d'Aosta/Vallée d'Aoste, Emilia Romagna and Calabria. The increase was higher in the Central and Southern regions, in particular in Tuscany (+1.0 points), Umbria (+0.8), Campania (+1.3) and Puglia (+0.9). In 2018, the highest value was recorded in the Centre (15.5 per thousand of population aged 20-29); in particular, Marche reached the value of 17.6 per thousand population. In the South, the highest values were observed in Abruzzo and Molise (more than 18 per thousand of population aged 20-29). Liguria reached the value of 16.7 per thousand population with an increase of 1.1, due exclusively to male graduates.
With regard to Internet access, in 2020, Lazio (83.8%) and the Autonomous Province of Trento (83%) showed the highest percentage of households with broadband Internet access. A strong imbalance was observed in the use of the web between the Center-North (76%) and the South (68%).
In 2018, the European R&D expenditure amounted to 2.11% of GDP. Sweden, Austria, Germany and Denmark exceeded the 3% threshold set as a common target within the Europe 2020 strategy. Italy ranked below the European average and did not reach its national target (1.53% of GDP).
In 2018, in EU countries, on average, R&D employees (in full-time equivalent units) amounted to 6.4 per thousand inhabitants. Italy showed 5.7 R&D employees per thousand inhabitants, ranking below the European average.
Between 2016 and 2018, the share of Italian innovative enterprises (60%) was higher than the European average (50.3%) and close to the share showed by the leading innovative countries, such as Belgium, Germany and Austria.
In 2020, as regards the use of websites by businesses, Italy ranked eighteenth among the EU countries, recording 4 percentage points less than the European average (78.0%). Finland and Denmark ranked at the top in the use of websites with shares exceeding 90.0%.
In 2018, the share of graduates in tertiary education, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) increased in most European countries, particularly in Ireland (+2.5 points, compared to 2017) and in the United Kingdom (+1.5, compared to 2017). The gap between Italy (15.5 per thousand of population aged 20-29) and the other European countries (which on average stood at 20.4 per thousand of population aged 20-29) was still high, especially for males, on average amounting to almost 8 points (18 points between Italy and France and almost 29 points between Italy and Ireland).
In 2020, with regard to households with at least one member in the 16-74 age group who had a broadband access, the gap between Italy and the EU average narrowed (-2 percentage points, in 2020; it was -4 points in 2019).
Italy ranked among the bottom countries in the European ranking, showing 76% of regular Internet users in the age group 16-74. The average value for EU27 countries amounted to 86%, while Denmark, Luxembourg, Finland and Sweden showed values above 100%.