In the 1990s, the Clinton administration sharply reduced the number of foreign work visas - the reason was protectionism, the belief that foreign workers were taking American jobs.
Things didn't work out as planned. Jobs instead went overseas and since we did not reduce student visas, Asian students learned at the best schools in the world and were forced to return home to compete with Americans, rather than becoming Americans.
Today, America still holds the lead in science output, and we spend the most on science and technology by far, but Asia now accounts for 40 percent of global R&D, with China as the stand-out as it continues to strengthen its global S&E capacity, according to the National Science Board's (NSB) Science and Engineering Indicators 2016 (Indicators) report, released today.
China dominates Asian advances
The 2016 edition of Indicators highlights that China, South Korea and India are investing heavily in R&D and in developing a well-educated workforce skilled in science and engineering. Indicators 2016 makes it clear that while the United States continues to lead in a variety of metrics, it exists in an increasingly multi-polar world for S&E that revolves around the creation and use of knowledge and technology.
According to Indicators 2016, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D as compared to the United States, which accounts for 27 percent.
Between 2003 and 2013, China ramped up its R&D investments at an average of 19.5 percent annually, greatly exceeding that of the U.S. China made its increases despite the Great Recession. Developing economies that start at a lower base tend to grow much more rapidly than those that are already functioning at a high level; nonetheless, China's growth rate in this arena has been remarkable.
China is also playing an increasingly prominent role in knowledge and technology-intensive industries, including high-tech manufacturing and knowledge-intensive services. These industries account for 29 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and for nearly 40 percent of U.S. GDP. China ranks second in high-tech manufacturing, where the U.S. maintains a slim lead with a global share of 29 percent to China's 27 percent. While China plays a smaller role in commercial knowledge-intensive services (business, financial, and information), it has now surpassed Japan to move into third place behind the United States and the European Union.
The Obama administration's commitment to science has lagged
At the same time that China and South Korea have continued to increase their R&D investments, the United States' longstanding commitment to federal government-funded R&D is wavering. In 2013, government funded R&D accounted for 27 percent of total U.S. R&D and was the largest supporter (47 percent) of all U.S. basic research.
Indicators shows that Federal investment in both academic and business sector R&D has declined in recent years, reflecting the effects of the end of the investments of ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), the advent of the Budget Control Act, and increased pressure on the discretionary portion of the federal budget. Since the Great Recession, substantial, real R&D growth annually -- ahead of the pace of U.S. GDP -- has not returned. Inflation-adjusted growth in total U.S. R&D averaged only 0.8 percent annually over the 2008-13 period, behind the 1.2 percent annual average for U.S. GDP.
Americans support science
Despite ongoing challenges with federal investment in R&D, Americans have generally favorable views toward science, believing that science creates more opportunity for the next generation, that its benefits outweigh its risks, and that the federal government should provide funds for scientific research.
Additionally, despite declining public confidence in most U.S. institutions, Americans' confidence in the scientific community remains strong. However, Americans take a dim view of our nation's performance in K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; most believe other countries are doing a better job. About half of Americans worry that science is making life "change too fast," up from about one-third who expressed this concern a decade ago.