National Science Board report highlights need for continued science investment

Southeast Asia’s R&D performance shoots up through the aughts, eclipsing US

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A Feb. 11 Capitol Hill briefing orchestrated by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science Board (NSB) showcased the board’s latest biannual Science and Engineering Indicators report, which outlines the current state of science investment domestically in the United States as well as internationally among other countries. The briefing was held in a hearing from of the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee (Russell 253).

The 25 member board sets policy for the NSF and advises the President and Congress on science and engineering. Biannual indictors reports fulfill a statutory mandate to report to Congress and executive agencies on the status of science and engineering, including R&D trends and the demographics of the S&E workforce.

Entitled “What the latest Federal data tell us about the US Science and Technology Enterprise,” the briefing spotlighted a number of statistics from the report of interest to policymakers. The report highlighted a shift in the global science landscape with countries such as China and South Korea rapidly eclipsing the United States in their share of worldwide research and development (R&D) investment. Collectively, the information compiled the support helps showcase both the importance science investment plays in economic development and the importance of this investment in maintaining America’s global competitiveness in innovation.

Since 2001, the share of the world’s R&D performed by the United States has decreased from 37 percent to 30 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, Asian countries’ share of global R&D has risen from 25 to 34 percent over the same period. China’s share alone spiked from four percent to 15 percent over that decade.

The Great Recession (2008-2009) caused declines in R&D expenditures attributable to business R&D, which contributes the largest share of US R&D spending. The NSB report notes that the decrease was partially offset by a one-time bump in federal funding for scientific research included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5).

According to the report, the US has rebounded better than other developed countries in overall R&D funding. The report also found that science and technology degree holders “weathered” the recession better than other sectors of the US workforce. It also stated that workers in S&E occupations have almost always had lower unemployment than workers in other jobs.

In 2011, the federal government was the primary financial support source for 19 percent of full-time S&E graduate students. Graduate students in the biological sciences, physical sciences and engineering received relatively more federal support than those in computer, math, health, or social sciences.

The report also found that tuition and fees for colleges and universities have grown sharply faster than median household income. Between 1987 and 2010 tuition and fees grew by 143 percent in the most research-intensive public university while household incomes remain relatively stagnant during the same period. This rise coincided with a sharp 28 percent drop in state and local appropriations, which is a significant source of institution revenue.

The role of community colleges in advancing science and engineering education was also touched on during the briefing. The report notes that nearly 20 percent of US citizens or permanent residents with a doctoral degree had some earned college credit from a community or two-year college. The briefing noted the important role community colleges play in advancing science education for racial minority students.

The report found that women compromised a higher proportion of occupations in social sciences (58 percent) and life sciences (48 percent) than in engineering (13 percent) and computer and mathematical sciences (25 percent). It also stated that while Hispanics, blacks and Native Americans make up 26 percent of the US adult population (over 21), they account for 10 percent of workers in S&E occupations. Asians, conversely, occupied 19 percent of US S&E occupations compared to their five percent representation among the US population.

Speakers at the briefing included Acting NSF Director Cora Marrett, NSB Chairman Dan Arvizu and NSB Committee on Science and Engineering Indicators Chairman Ray Bowen.

Additional information on the report is available here.

Photo credit: National Science Foundation

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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