Education: Jobs and Global Trade, Part 2

(research and development, the United States in a changing world)

Research and Development in the United States

Research and development in the United States has materially contributed to innovation and economic growth. The strong U.S. economic performance during the 1990s has given impetus to the trend toward a knowledge-based economy: that is, one in which research, its commercial exploitation, and other intellectual work play a growing role in driving economic growth.

  • That strong U. S. performance has become the benchmark against which governments around the world have measured their countries' "science and technology" activities and their progress toward a more knowledge-based economy.
  • Seeking to emulate elements of the U.S. model of knowledge-driven economic growth, they are striving to expand knowledge intensive sectors of their economies and are taking steps to develop the highly educated technical workforces they need to do so.
  • The European Union (EU) has set a goal of becoming "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010."
  • U.S. investment and performance in research and development and science and technology remain strong and progress toward a more knowledge-based economy continues.
  • This progress takes place in an environment of increasing globalization of science and technology-related activities as advances in communication and transportation, the cross-fertilization of ideas, increasingly open markets, and responses to significant cost differentials among competing countries spur innovation.
  • Presence of foreign-born scientists and engineers may be changing

  • The United States has long benefited from the participation of large numbers of foreign-born scientists and engineers in the science and engineering workforce.
  • Data from the 2000 U.S. Census show that in science and engineering occupations, approximately 17 percent of bachelor's degree holders, 29 percent of master's degree holders, and 38 percent of doctorate holders are foreign born.
  • These individuals contribute talent, scientific ingenuity, and technical sophistication to the U.S. science and technology enterprise and help open up avenues for international scientific cooperation.
  • The outlook for U.S. science and engineering is affected by uncertainties in three major areas: the effects of policy adjustments arising from the September 11, 2001, attacks, the current weak worldwide economy, and developments affecting the U.S. science and engineering workforce.
  • The first source of uncertainty is the recasting of the relationship between science and technology and U.S. national security.
  • The attacks of September, 2001, have given increased urgency and a new focus to the changing strategic role of science and technology in the post-Cold War era.
  • The role of foreign students, scientists, and engineers in the U.S. science and engineering system; the appropriate balance between security and openness in scientific communication; the direction of certain Federal research and development initiatives; and the contributions that research and development can make in the domestic security arena are all issues of concern.
  • Another source of uncertainty is the effect of the continuing globalization of labor markets on the U.S. knowledge-based economy.
  • Employment in the U.S. science and engineering workforce has been growing significantly faster than overall employment for several decades, made possible in part by the U.S. ability to attract foreign-born science and engineering workers.
  • The U.S. science and engineering workforce is entering a period of rising retirements, particularly among (but not limited to) doctorate holders.
  • If present degree trends, retirement behavior, and international migration patterns persist, science and engineering workforce growth will slow considerably, potentially affecting the relative technological position of the U.S. economy.
  • The international science and engineering labor force is growing and becoming increasingly mobile.

  • Governments are implementing policies designed to lure more of their citizens into science and engineering; keep their researchers at home or, in the case of the EU, in EU countries; and attract highly trained science and engineering personnel from abroad.
  • Private firms are responding to competitive pressures and market opportunities by opening high-technology operations in foreign locations, developing strategic international alliances, and consummating cross-national spinoffs and mergers.
  • A consequence of these trends is the further spread of technological know-how and the development of significant scientific and technical capacity in new locations across the globe.
  • As with the uncertain implications of security concerns and the weak economic environment, the dynamics of skilled labor migration in the context of changing government and industry policies also are hard to predict.
  • Conclusions about their impact on the U.S. science and technology position may require the accumulation of several years' worth of data to distinguish between temporary deviations from major trends and changes in the trends themselves.
—Source of information: National Science Board; National Science Foundation;
Division of Science Resources Statistics; "Science and Engineering Indicators, 2004"

The Education Index: of Topics.