For anyone concerned about strengthening America’s long-term leadership in science and technology, the nation’s schools are an obvious place to start. But brace yourself for what you’ll find. The depressing reality is that when it comes to educating the next generation in these subjects, America is no longer a world contender. In fact, U.S. students have fallen far behind their competitors in much of Western Europe and in advanced Asian nations like Japan and South Korea.
This trend has disturbing implications not just for the future of American technological leadership but for the broader economy. Already, “we have developed a shortage of highly skilled workers and a surplus of lesser-skilled workers,” warned Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan in a March 12 address at Boston College. And the problem is worsening. “[We’re] graduating too few skilled workers to address the apparent imbalance between the supply of such workers and the burgeoning demand for them,” Greenspan added.
As a result, “the future strength of the U.S. science and engineering workforce is imperiled,” the National Science Board warned in a sweeping report issued last year.
– from “America’s Failure in Science Education
William Harris spent most of his career in the U.S. teaching chemistry or working at the National Science Foundation, where he was responsible for doling out $750 million a year in federal grants. But three years ago, Harris, now 59, moved to Ireland, the land of his forebears, to help turn it into a technology power.
He became director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), which since its founding in 2000 has attracted dozens of internationally renowned scholars from the U.S., Britain, Germany, and Russia. The newcomers get labs, promises of fast response to requests for assistance, and, most important, money for research into cutting-edge areas such as nanotechnology. SFI has $1 billion to play with — an enormous resource for a country of just 4 million people.
FERTILE CULTURES. The intent is to emulate America’s success as a worldwide technology leader — a transformation that not just Ireland but China, South Korea, India, and Israel, among others, intend to replicate. As these countries make their run for glory, they could eat into America’s dominance, experts say. “The U.S. has more aggressive competition than it has had in the past decade or so,” notes Erich Bloch, a principal at Washington Advisory Group, management consultancy in Washington, D.C.
Already, the European Union has outstripped the U.S. in the number of scientific papers it publishes in major journals every year. That’s a key barometer of a region’s reputation in the scientific world, says R.D. Shelton, president of technology assessment for the nonprofit World Technology Evaluation Center in Baltimore. And the international pressure will only grow as other governments support their domestic companies with ambitions in telecommunications, semiconductors, and nanotechnology, among other initiatives.
– from Challengers to America’s Science Crown
Though the articles note (and the interview with White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger also mentions) that information technology R&D has been a focus of US federal R&D efforts, it’s also worth pointing out that the Bush Administration request for IT R&D in FY 2005 is for a reduction of 1 percent in spending vs. FY 2004. And that level is still $685 million below the funding level recommended by the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee way back in 1999.
Here’s more detail from CRA’s Computing Research News Online.