Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ongoing R&D Debate

The Financial Times has run a piece by a senior analyst at the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts. He says that while the US has appeared "to be attracting the world's next generation of scientists and engineers . . . there was one country whose citizens did not find the US attractive enough to pursue a career in science and engineering: the US itself." The author, Sami Mahroum, offers the familiar statistic that one-third of SE doctorates in the US go to foreign-born students.

That stat isn't as stale as it sounds, and needs better interpretation. But Mahorum goes on to say something more surprising about Europe. Not only does Europe have higher rates of SE enrollments than the US (27 percent get SE degrees, vs 24 percent in Japan and 16 percent in the US), but its businesses invest more than their American counterparts on research and development - $232,000 vs. $180,000. And although the US spends a higher proportion of its GDP on R&D (2.5 percent vs. 1.8 percent for the EU), the 12 core EU countries have higher rates "when measured against the size of their workforce."

As the US "brain gain" ebbs, it will have a harder time even staying in place. The obvious solution - reinvestment in SE human resources - should not be delayed by the coming recession.

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