A Real Science Gap

By February 23, 2006General

There’s an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post by our friend Bob Samuelson, who most always gets it right but who this time missed the mark. It’s called, “A Phony Science Gap” and aims to debunk the widely-held notion that we suffer a gap in science and engineering with China and India. While trying to make his point, he notes some facts that simultaneously undermine it:

— The number of engineering degrees (the root of our manufacturing innovation) has stagnated since 1990.

— While graduate school enrollment in science and engineering, foreign-born students represent a growing share of the total. We posted this chart back in August in connection with our Labor Day Report that illustrates this point quite well.

— He cites the lone study from the past few decades that claims to show lower-than-previously-stated graduates from 4-year engineering programs in China and goes on to add for solace that “per million people” (emphasis ours) the US graduates slightly more engineers with four-year degrees that China. Some consolation.

Even taking his arguments on their face, the trends buried therein would all be worrisome. If China is still cranking out more 2- and 3-year engineering degrees than all of the US and Canada combined — as this chart shows — that’s a very bad trend for us, for innovation and for manufacturing. We also need to make sure that we are keeping those foreign-born students who are studying here. We want to make sure that that we’re not shipping the next Andy Grove or Sergei Brin back home to compete against us. Think of it as the economic Olympics.

Finally, as this chart showed as part of our Labor Day Report, we have fallen behind in federal outlays for research and development for life sciences and for math, computer, physical sciences and engineering. We need to boost that spending as well, a proposal that’s part of the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative. There is additional good news: From 1993 – 2003, the median salary for engineers with a bachelor’s degree and 1-5 years’ experience rose 34%, as compared to a 7.7% for non-engineers. Not bad.

We would just take this opportunity to remind Bob Samuelson that every survey we’ve done of our member — large and small — shows a shortage of skilled employees. Engineers and scientists — like those feted by the President earlier his month — are the life blood of manufacturing. At the other end of the process — in an unbroken chain — is the US standard of living. We must fight — through education an and smart immigration policies — to make sure we will always have the best and the brightest right here in the good ol’ US of A.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • bill says:

    Real good commentary on the Samuelson article. When we talk about this stuff, it’s also good to cite our own work, like the Popkin report which addresses these concerns and the National Summit on Competitiveness last December where dozens of our members showed up to talk about these concerns, give a real-world dimension to the problem. All Samuelson can do is quote data–we have the real world.