Friday, January 25, 2013

The Global Race for STEM Skills

The ‘STEM One Year On’ report was launched at ...
The ‘STEM One Year On’ report (Photo credit: Northern Ireland Executive)
by Alex Katsomitros, The Observatory:

Higher education is often seen as an export industry in the developed world, but the economic crisis has exposed once again its role as a driver for economic growth.

Investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines is increasingly seen in the US and Europe as a means to boost innovation, particularly in manufacturing, the sector which helped Asian economies grow exponentially over the last two decades.

A debate on the importance of science education is brewing on both sides of the Atlantic but gets particularly heated when it intersects with immigration.

A 'STEM cliff' in the US

In no other country is this debate fiercer than the US. Currently, all foreign graduates are eligible to stay in the country for 29 months after they graduate. Most of them do so. According to a 2012 report by the National Science Board, two-thirds of the international students who received a PhD in a science subject in 2004 were still in the country in 2009.

Imported talent is necessary to meet increasing demand for STEM skills. According to a report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation in 2010, the number of STEM graduates will have to increase by 20-30% by 2016 to meet the projected growth of the US economy. 

Overall, STEM employment grew three times more than non-STEM employment over the last twelve years, and is expected to grow twice as fast by 2018.

The political establishment and the business community have acknowledged the need to import international talent. In a rare moment of bipartisan agreement, the House of Representatives passed the STEM Jobs Act 2012 in November. 

It was later blocked by the Senate, but is expected to be reintroduced in amended form in 2013. This piece of legislation will make 55,000 visas available to immigrants who hold PhDs and Master's degrees in STEM fields from US universities, thereby exempting them from immigration quotas.

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney supported the Act during their campaigns, recognising that foreign STEM students are job-creators. A recent University of California-Berkeley and Duke University study found that 25% of engineering and tech companies set up in the US between 1995 and 2005 had at least one foreign-born founder. 

The benefits to US workers are obvious. According to a 2011 report by the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy, every foreign-born worker with a STEM degree creates an average 2.6 extra jobs for native-born workers.

These numbers do not convince the anti-immigration lobby, which claims that the import of skilled labour suppresses wages, thereby disincentivising STEM graduates from seeking careers in these fields. It also encourages high school students to apply for degrees in other subjects, such as law and business. 

More than anything else, anti-immigration groups claim that foreign STEM graduates returning to their home countries steal from America the valuable skills that are necessary in the global race for innovation.

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment