II. Entering an Era of Change
III. Priorities for Federal R D Funding Consistent with New National Goals and Resource Constraints
IV. Needs of Current and Future Generations for a Well-Trained Workforce
V. Integration of Research and Education at U.S. Colleges and Universities
The National Science Board is charged with focusing national attention on major issues of science and engineering (S&E) research and education. Science and Engineering Indicators, the Boards biennial report to the Congress submitted through the President, presents a quantitative overview of the condition of the U.S. science and technology (S&T) enterprise. To accompany Science and Engineering Indicators- 1996, the Board offers this brief assessment of key policy issues facing the Nation as it seeks to sustain U.S. leadership in science and engineering.
During the Second World War, the United States turned to science and technology to ensure its security and defense. Since then, a consistent bipartisan policy of Federal investment in research and education for civilian needs has built a research and education enterprise of unparalleled scope and quality. This policy has directly contributed to the Nations economic growth, the productive use and cultivation of its resources, and the health and well being of its people. U.S. investments in science and technology constitute a legacy that increases in value as the Nation faces the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
The research and education institutions comprising the U.S. S&E enterprise now must reassess and redefine their roles and objectives for a new era, one no longer driven by the defense imperatives that shaped their evolution. The challenge of the future is to adapt the programs and organizations that have nurtured scientists and engineers so successfully over the past 50 years in order to meet the Nations new opportunities, needs, and goals.This new environment will call for fresh approaches to setting priorities and responding to opportunities. Even in the best of circumstances, the exponential growth of scientific opportunities would require increased care in setting priorities. The limited resources imposed by the Federal budget constraints of the 1990s create an even stronger imperative to choose wisely and to weigh existing S&E activities, no matter how worthwhile, against the promise of new ideas and approaches.
Based on new data, the Board highlights three key S&T policy goals:
The remaining sections of this statement describe relevant trends presented in Science and Engineering Indicators, discuss the key policy issues, and recommend actions.
As concerns about U.S. economic performance have overtaken Cold War considerations, Federal R D priorities have shifted away from defense and toward the civilian sector. The shift reinforces the trend toward academic institutions assuming a greater role in the total U.S. R D effort.1 Academic institutions are highly dependent on Federal funds to finance their performance of research. Shifts in emphasis and performance have occurred in the context of worldwide financial resource constraints. Mirroring the funding slowdowns in other major R D-performing countries, overall growth in U.S. support for R D has not kept pace with inflation in the 1990s. Federal outlays, which constituted 36 percent of total U.S. R D spending in 1995, have been falling in real terms each year since 1987.2
The academic sector has remained the Nations largest performer of basic research. Between 1984 and 1994, average annual constant dollar increases in R D performed at universities and colleges exceeded, by at least a factor of two, performance growth in all other settings. Growth in Federal obligations for academic R D, however, slowed in the beginning of the 1990s to half the rate in the late 1980s. Three Federal agencies supported the bulk of academic R D in 1995: the National Institutes of Health (NIH - 53 percent), the National Science Foundation (NSF - 15 percent), and the Department of Defense (DOD - 12 percent). Since their support is concentrated in different academic fields, Federal financial constraints have different effects on education and research in various disciplines.3
Shifting national goals for science and technology and current Federal funding constraints will have important long-term effects on the U.S. R D enterprise and on the continuous expansion of the S&E knowledge base needed to sustain national productivity and quality of life in the 21st century. The Federal response to these conditions will have special impact because of the Governments roles as major funder, user, and producer of R D results. Current circumstances dictate reconsideration of Federal research priorities and decision rules on areas, levels, and directions of Federal funding.
New opportunities for domestic and international partnerships are creating a more robust and diversified base of support for S&E research. International collaboration opens the way to new research possibilities and promotes cost-sharing of expensive facilities. Recent domestic R D partnerships among government, academia, and industry are also ripe for strengthening. The increasing importance of such partnerships underscores the need for more focused attention on such issues as when the Federal Government should initiate, lead, or follow in a research partnership and on how the government can protect both research openness and U.S. intellectual interests. Another prominent new issue is whether Federal goals for R D investments should take into account the potential for creating jobs or enhancing U.S. industrial competitiveness.
Explicit consideration of the interdependence between, and the synergy among, the various elements of the U.S. R D enterprise is of utmost importance. A reconsideration of research priorities could lead to significant Federal funding reallocations which, if made without regard to the impact on R D, could be inefficient and even damaging. Experience suggests that the S&E knowledge base is best nurtured by long-term investment supported by reliable multiyear budgets. However, both are difficult to sustain in an environment that combines change and fiscal constraint. The National Science Board recommends three essential first steps toward creating an effective Federal R D process for this new era.
In the 1990s, U.S. industrys use of advanced technologies continues to increase, creating greater demand for more educated employees and for a general workforce with greater technical knowledge and skill. Industry has continued to employ a majority of the graduates earning U.S. S&E baccalaureate or postbaccalaureate degrees, including Ph.Ds. Overall, the number of S&E jobs in industry increased by 2.5 percent between 1990 and 1993, with growth concentrated in occupations that required computer-related and mathematical skills. Hiring in other S&T fields declined.4 In the 1990s, the service sector became the leading industrial employer of scientists in the United States and four of the other major member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. More than half of U.S. scientists and engineers working in industry are now in nonmanufacturing businesses.
To remain competitive in todays global marketplace, the United States will need workers and entrepreneurs who are educated in science, mathematics, and engineering and are able to understand and use S&E research results and technological capabilities. To gain new knowledge and exploit novel processes and products, the United States also will need a cadre of scientists and engineers prepared to use their education and skills in a wide variety of employment settings. Finally, to address important national and global challenges, all members of U.S. society will need a foundation in mathematics, science, and engineering that enables them to make informed decisions about complex issues involving science and technology.
For these reasons, Federal policymakers have an overriding interest in engendering and maintaining a basic understanding of, and baseline skills in, science, mathematics, and engineering in the United States. Historically, Government has supported S&E education, with a special focus on postbaccalaureate training, primarily in the context of Federal R D mission goals. Future needs call for a Federal approach to human resource development in science and technology that goes beyond these mission goals for R D, cuts across all levels of education, and includes all participants in the educational process.
The challenge for government policymakers and their partners is to implement this new approach through programs aimed at improving science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education and through decisions made in the R D funding process. In this context, the National Science Board recommends three immediate actions.
Establishing these policies will require an expanded information base on science and technology in the development of human resources. The National Science Board expects NSF, working with interested partners, to compile, analyze, and disseminate the information needed for all scientists and engineers to understand labor market conditions more fully. Future volumes of Science and Engineering Indicators ought to include this information. The Board also expects NSF to conduct experiments designed to develop the educational programs best suited to evolving employment conditions.
The magnitude of the current U.S. higher education enterprise is unmatched, internationally or historically. In 1993, more than 3,600 U.S. institutions of higher education enrolled almost 15 million students, more than double the number enrolled in 1967. These institutions awarded 2 million degrees, one-quarter of which were in S&E fields.5 Federal support of basic research has had a significant effect on both graduate S&E education and academic employment. For example, many doctoral students in S&E programs have received their primary financial support from research assistantships. Also, the 3-percent annual employment growth of doctoral scientists and engineers on U.S. campuses during the 1980s has slowed and is confined largely to nonfaculty positions, many in research areas supported by the Federal government.6
Most faculty who make substantial time investments in research also have teaching responsibilities.7 In fact, teaching and research can reinforce each other. Great teaching is a form of synthesis and scholarship. At the precollege level, however, many mathematics and science teachers have very little training in mathematics and science. In 1993, less than 4 percent of elementary mathematics and science teachers had majored in mathematics, mathematics education, science, or science education. At the high school level, the picture is better: More than 60 percent of the math teachers and more than 70 percent of the science teachers had in-field majors in 1993.8
Individuals who have completed more years of formal schooling and more courses in science and mathematics are significantly more likely than other U.S. citizens to understand the nature of scientific inquiry and the research process. Nevertheless, only about one-quarter of U.S. adults understand the nature of scientific inquiry well enough to make informed judgments about results reported in the media.9
The U.S. research enterprise has been enormously successful, inspiring imitation throughout the world. A key component of this success is the investment of Federal research dollars, through NSF and other agencies, in institutions of higher learning, simultaneously supporting investigation and education. Research universities are the primary vehicles for current U.S. investments in fundamental S&E research and the locus of public investments in the technologically sophisticated and scientifically trained populace.
A major challenge facing Federal policymakers is to preserve and strengthen this integration of research and education at U.S. colleges and universities. In so doing, policymakers will promote public understanding of scientific inquiry and reinforce public confidence in the value and quality of the research and educational process. For the overall S&E enterprise to flourish, the pieces need to be strong individually, and their interactions need to be enhanced.
Science, mathematics, and engineering need to be integrated from K-12 science education all the way through research at the frontiers. An educated public and future scientists and engineers are both important goals of this integration. Many U.S. colleges and universities make research experience a regular part of undergraduate education in science. For example, with support from NSF, K-12 teachers and high school and undergraduate students are able to work with faculty as assistants on research projects, experiencing discovery and coming to understand the true nature of science.
NSF information suggests that some schools are exceptional at preparing select groups of students to understand particular areas of science and engineering. While there is no single model for how best to integrate research and education, the Nation needs to explore the possibilities.
The U.S. S&T enterprise serves as a wellspring of creativity and discovery as the Nation faces the next millennium. In order to preserve the integrity and vitality of this enterprise and U.S. leadership in science and engineering, the National Science Board recommends new approaches to setting Federal R&D priorities and developing coherent budget strategies. The Nation must put absolute priority on educating and training all members of society in mathematics, science, and engineering so they may be productively employed in an increasingly sophisticated global economy. This educational process is a lifelong endeavor, an opportunity that U.S. colleges and universities can revitalize, in cooperation with Federal agencies, by promoting the integration of research and education at all levels. A reinvigorated S&T enterprise, in which all components appreciate and reinforce their own and one anothers essential role, will enable U.S. society to meet successfully the technological challenges of the 21st century.
1 National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators-1996, NSB 96-21 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1996), Chapter 4 and Chapter 5.
2 Ibid.; Chapter 4 and Chapter 5.
3 Ibid.; Chapter 4 and Chapter 5.
4 Ibid.; Chapter 3.
5. Ibid.; Chapter 2.
6 Ibid.; Chapter 5.
7 Ibid.; Chapter 5.
8. Ibid.; Chapter 1.
9 Ibid.; Chapter 7.
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