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Indicators 2002
Introduction Overview Chapter 1: Elementary and Secondary Education Chapter 2: Higher Education in Science and Engineering Chapter 3: Science and Engineering Workforce Chapter 4: U.S. and International Research and Development: Funds and Alliances Chapter 5: Academic Research and Development Chapter 6: Industry, Technology, and the Global Marketplace Chapter 7: Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding Chapter 8: Significance of Information Technology Appendix Tables
Chapter Contents:
U.S. Higher Education in Science and Engineering (S&E)
Undergraduate S&E Students and Degrees in the United States
Graduate S&E Students and Degrees in the United States
Increasing Global Capacity in S&E
Selected Bibliography
Appendix Tables
List of Figures
Presentation Slides

Higher Education in Science and Engineering


Students in the United States are as interested in studying some fields of science as they were in the past, but the declining level of interest in engineering and physical sciences still raises national concern. From 1975 to 1998, approximately one-third of all bachelor’s degrees were earned in S&E fields. However, the distribution among natural sciences, social sciences, and engineering has changed. The approximately 12 percent of degrees earned in natural sciences are not as evenly distributed across physical and biological sciences as in previous decades. The number of degrees earned in biological sciences continues to increase, whereas the number earned in other natural sciences is dropping off. Engineering degrees, which represented 8 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in 1986, slowly dropped to 5 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in 1998. In addition, other countries award a higher percentage of bachelor’s degrees in S&E fields; among European and Asian countries, the average is about 40 percent and it is considerably higher for some emerging Asian countries.

The United States has programs to increase access to S&E education for groups that were formerly underrepresented in S&E fields. Because these groups represent the growing segment of the population in the United States, an adequate future workforce will require that minorities choose careers in S&E. To date, modest progress has been made toward increasing the proportion of these minority college-age populations earning NS&E degrees. In 1998, among whites, the ratio of NS&E degrees to the college-age population was 6 per 100. Among underrepresented minorities, the ratio was less than half that of whites.

Further research is needed to quantify the increasing access to S&E education outside traditional higher education institutions. That is, what is the effect of nondegree programs in engineering and IT completed in the workplace through distance education and certificates?

This chapter discussed indicators of expanding access to S&E education in several world regions and modest expansion of access to minority groups within the United States. Many countries have significantly increased the proportion of their college-age population earning first university degrees in NS&E fields. In addition, they have expanded their institutional capacity for S&E graduate programs and doctoral education. This expansion indicates a share-shift in the proportion of S&E doctoral degrees earned outside the industrialized countries. The challenge to the scientific leadership of the United States and to corporate R&D[9] from this share-shift is to devise effective forms of collaboration and information exchange to benefit from, and link to, the expanding proportion of science performed abroad. Measures of collaboration in international coauthorship of scientific articles may be an important indicator for monitoring the globalization of science. For example, the degree to which international coauthorship increases or decreases could indicate how the United States is staying in touch with expanded research abroad.

Several advanced industrial countries are also expanding recruitment of foreign S&E graduate students to maintain and strengthen their academic R&D efforts, considered to be of increasing importance to innovation (Porter and Stern 1999). Little evidence suggests that other countries are competing with graduate schools in the United States in the recruitment of foreign S&E students. The number of foreign graduate students is increasing in universities in the United States and in several other countries. Small shifts in graduate students in Asia entering Japanese or Australian universities may occur because of proximity and active recruitment by those countries. There are also small downward shifts in the number of foreign graduate students to universities in the United States from some traditional feeder countries and economies that have expanded their graduate programs, such as South Korea and Taiwan.

Because mobility of people is the main mechanism for technology transfer, the flow of foreign students abroad and reverse flow of students back to their home countries provide an opportunity for S&T development. Whether S&E education abroad eventually contributes to the home country depends on its S&T policy and commitment to employing highly skilled professionals. China and many other developing countries have shown that they need not be able to offer employment to their scientists and engineers educated abroad to receive their scientific advice on development schemes or research directions (Meyer 2001). Research is needed on the appropriate mix of foreign S&E doctoral recipients who "stay abroad" and "return home" for mutual benefit to the host and sending countries. The beneficial mix of immediate and delayed returns and the variety of cooperative activities associated with reverse flow are likely to differ for individual countries, regions, and stages of development.


[9] See, for example, John E. Pepper, Chairman of the Board, The Procter & Gamble Company, "National Benefits from Global R&D," Industrial Research Institute Annual Meeting. Williamsburg, VA, May 26, 1999.

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