Thirty years ago China created its first State Key Laboratory (SKL). This news item is a short introduction into this government innovation policy instrument. SKLs are not to be confused with National Laboratories or National Engineering Research Centers, both of which will be discussed in separate news items.

SKLs have become an important component of China’s national science and technology innovation system. The first plan to create SKLs was devised by the Chinese State Planning Commission in 1984. That commission is now better know by its current name the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The implementation of the SKLs was later on handed over to the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) in 1998 when the budget of MOST substantially increased to be able to support the SKLs. Later on also the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation (NSFC) got involved in the evaluation of the academic performance of the SKLs.

SKLs are laboratories at universities and private companies receiving funding and administrative support from the Chinese central government. Currently there are close to 300 SKLs at universities and another 100 located at enterprises. SKLs also serve as funnel for China’s top researchers (many coming back from abroad). The university SKLs focus on mathematics and physics, chemistry, geology, life science, information science, material science, and engineering. The commercial SKLs are geared towards: materials, minerals, energy, medicine, information technology, manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation.

These labs are the foundation for many of the country’s top-level basic research and applied basic research and account for a substantial amount of scientific publications coming out of China. Generally each SKL specializes in one particular area of academic interest. They represent the best research groups in China, especially for basic research.

A very rough estimate of the total annual budget of all the SKLs would be in the order of 10 billion RMB.

See also: Datenna SKL Mapping