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International collaboration, talent development central to future of US success in science & engineering, NSB/NSF report finds

January 27, 2022
By: Colin Edwards

Recognizing that the era of total U.S. dominance in the global science and engineering (S&E) enterprise is over, a recent report from the National Science Board (NSB) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) on the State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2022 indicates that the U.S. must focus on strengthening international research and development (R&D) collaboration and developing domestic STEM talent to maintain its leadership on the global S&E stage. As in previous years, the report includes a detailed examination of the statistical indicators of S&E activities, but also updates the definitions used for the S&E workforce and includes an analysis of the role of K-12 STEM education in the domestic STEM talent pipeline.

The latest report finds that the trends indicated in the 2020 report have continued. First, the U.S. (and Europe) continues to lose its share of global R&D despite increases in total R&D spending. Losses in the U.S. and Europe have been picked up primarily by China and other countries in Southeast Asia. Similarly, the U.S. federal government has continued to fund a lower share of the country’s R&D activities despite an overall increase in the total amount of federal R&D spending.

This year’s report provides a significant update to the definition used for the national S&E workforce, including the skilled technical workforce — nearly 20 million additional workers without a bachelor’s degree whose jobs typically require S&E knowledge and skills. This additional level of detail provides a clearer picture of the domestic S&E workforce and the disparities that must be addressed to adequately bolster the nation’s S&E enterprise.

While the report also finds that the number of S&E degrees granted by the nation’s institutions of higher education are not rising at the speed of international competitors, several indicators (such as publishing and citation rates) show that the quality of higher education S&E training in the U.S. remains world-class. However, international student enrollment has continued to slip along with the diversity, equity, and inclusion of the nation’s domestic STEM student population. For a clearer picture of the nation’s domestic S&E workforce pipeline, the 2022 report expands the analysis of S&E training to include K-12 STEM education, an important catalyst for priming the S&E talent pipeline. Finding that diversity, equity, and inclusion disparities in higher education and the S&E workforce begin with the social and geographic conditions of early education, the report’s authors include an expanded discussion of these challenges, acknowledging that these differences continue to exacerbate inequity across all of the nation’s S&E assets.

Accepting that the United States, or any other single nation, cannot maintain across-the-board dominance in global S&E, the report’s authors stress the importance of solidifying the nation’s comparative strengths such as basic/fundamental research and S&E training in higher education, closing the diversity and equity gaps domestically, and embracing the role of a global collaborator.

nsf, s&e, report