Monday, May 03, 2004

Who Will Do the Science of This Millennium?

A fascinating headline on the front page of the New York Times announces: "U.S. Is Losing Its Dominance in the Sciences" (William J. Broad, March 3, 2004). Among other things, the article documents that:
  • "[T]he numbers of new doctorates in the sciences peaked in 1998 and then fell 5 percent the next year, a loss of more than 1,300 new scientists, according to the foundation.
  • "[T]he American share [of the Novel Prizes], after peaking from the 1960's through the 1990's, has fallen in the 2000's to about half, 51 percent. The rest went to Britain, Japan, Russia, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and New Zealand."
  • "The United States' share of its own industrial patents has fallen steadily over the decades and now stands at 52 percent."
  • "CHI Research, a consulting firm in Haddon Heights, N.J., found that researchers in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea now account for more than a quarter of all United States industrial patents awarded each year, generating revenue for their own countries and limiting it in the United States. 'It's not just lots of patents,' Francis Narin, CHI's president, said of the Asian rise. 'It's lots of good patents that have a high impact," as measured by how often subsequent patents cite them.'"
  • "[S]cientific papers by Americans peaked in 1992 and then fell roughly 10 percent, the National Science Foundation reports. . . . In a study last year, the [European] commission said Europe surpassed the United States in the mid-1990's as the world's largest producer of scientific literature."
  • "Physical Review, a series of top physics journals, recently tracked a reversal in which American papers, in two decades, fell from the most to a minority. Last year the total was just 29 percent, down from 61 percent in 1983."
The New York Times included vivid graphics to illustrate the scientific decline of the United States: "Overtaking the U.S." and "Tracking Achievements."

The causes of the decline? Relatively rising standards of living outside the USA, especially in Asia and Europe, and the US's "costly and unique military role": this year's federal budget allocates more than $126 billion to research, but more than half of the research budget -- $66 billion -- goes to military research.

What is interesting is that "the United States began to experience a number of scientific declines in the 1990's, boom years for the nation's overall economy" (emphasis added, "U.S. Is Losing Its Dominance in the Sciences"). What accounts for the timing? The Democratic Party's fiscal austerity that produced the budget surplus?

In any event, tighter immigration controls and such draconian border security measures as finger-printing adopted in panicked response to the September 11th terrorist attacks have and will continue to accelerate the decline of the US scientific establishment.
  • Even if their applications are rejected, citizens of developing nations must pay $100 for a non-immigrant visa to the
    United States. . . .

    The unfairness is obvious: people should not be charged for something -- in this case, a visa to the United States - that they do not receive. And $100 is a huge sum in nations like India, with an annual per capita income estimated at $2,600 in 2002, or even Poland, where it is $9,700. . . .

    From October 2000 to September 2001, 6.3 million people applied to travel to the United States for business, pleasure or medical treatment from developing nations. (These include any nations that do not have a reciprocal visa waiver agreement with the United States.) That number dropped to 3.7 million for the 2003 fiscal year. Applications for student visas fell by almost 100,000 over the same
    two years.

    Despite the decline in applications, visa rejection rates have risen. The rate for "cultural exchange" visas, for example - used by many medical students - was 5.1 percent for the 2001 fiscal year; two years later it was 7.8 percent. (Steven C. Clemons, "Land of the Free?" New York Times, March 31, 2004)

  • On June 1, the State Department is expected to start charging applicants a long-planned fee to pay for the system's operation. College officials worry that the $100 fee will add yet another complicated step to an already complex interagency process and deter even more international students from applying.

    To pay the fee, applicants will have to use U.S. dollars through an American bank, which would then mail them a paper receipt to present at the visa interview. Mail service in many countries is slow and unreliable, says Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government affairs at the American Council on Education, and paper receipts can be lost, stolen, or counterfeited. (Michael Arnone, "Security at Home Creates Insecurity Abroad," The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 12, 2004)

  • At 90 percent of American colleges and universities, applications from international students for fall 2004 are down, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools that was released earlier this month. According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, applications from China have fallen by 76 percent, while those from India have dropped by 58 percent. Applications to research universities from prospective international graduate students are down by at least 25 percent overall; here at Texas A&M, international student applications have fallen by 38 percent from last year.

    Not surprisingly, universities in Australia, Britain, France and elsewhere are taking advantage of our barriers and are aggressively recruiting these students. According to the Chronicle, foreign student enrollment in Australia is up 16.5 percent over last year; Chinese enrollment there has risen by 20 percent. (Robert M. Gates, "International Relations 101," New York Times, March 31, 2004)

  • More than 90 percent of American colleges and universities have seen a drop in applications from international graduate students for the fall 2004 term, and the number of submissions has fallen 32 percent from last year, according to a survey released by the Council of Graduate Schools on Tuesday.

    The findings support a similar survey released last week that found a sharp decline in the number of applications from graduate students from overseas, and a smaller drop in the number from undergraduates. That survey was jointly conducted by the graduate-schools council, the American Council on Education, the Association of American Universities, Nafsa: Association of International Educators, and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

    The new study, which focuses on graduate students only, found the largest drop in applications from countries that usually send the most applications. Applications from students in China declined by 76 percent, those from India fell 58 percent. Students in the Middle East sent 31 percent fewer applications, and even Western Europe had a 30-percent decline. The drop crossed all fields of study as well, with an 80-percent plunge in applications to engineering programs and a 65-percent reduction in those to physical-sciences programs.

    The results among the 32 research universities with the largest international enrollments were much worse. Thirty-one of those institutions (97 percent) saw declines, 90 percent reported fewer applications from China, and 72 percent reported fewer from India. More than 90 percent saw drops in engineering applications, and 80 percent saw fewer for physical sciences.

    The survey's results are sobering but not surprising, said John H. Yopp, a senior scholar in residence at the Council of Graduate Schools and former associate vice president for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

    Populous countries and large universities, Mr. Yopp said, have the most scientists and engineers, who are more likely than graduate students in other fields to be reviewed by a visa-security system run by the U.S. Department of State called Visas Mantis. The program, a collaboration between the FBI and the State Department, performs security checks on foreign students and scholars who study any of roughly 200 different scientific fields that are on the government's Technology Alert List, which catalogs disciplines that could threaten U.S. national security if knowledge in certain subject areas were transported to another country.

    A report issued last month by the General Accounting Office found that Visas Mantis was responsible for many delays in processing visa applications from international students.

    Whether or not Visas Mantis or other visa-security systems are directly linked to the drop in applications, said Peter D. Syverson, the council's vice president for research, "the thinking abroad is that the U.S. is not as welcoming."

    The decline in applications is a bad sign, Mr. Syverson said, because application figures tend to predict enrollment figures over time. Most institutions feel that a one-year drop in applications will be difficult but survivable, he said. Several years of declines, however, would be disastrous.

    Not just graduate-school applications are down. Fewer international students are taking the Graduate Record Examinations, said David G. Payne, associate vice president for graduate, professional, and postsecondary programs at the Educational Testing Service. In India, the foreign country with the most students taking the test, the number is down 37 percent; in China, which has the second-largest number, participation has dropped by half. The two countries provide 50 percent the international students who take the test.

    A summary of the findings of the survey by the Council of Graduate Schools is available on that organization's Web site: (Michael Arnone, "New Survey Confirms Sharp Drop in Applications to U.S. Colleges From Foreign Graduate Students," The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 4, 2004)

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