WASHINGTON — With the flow of science and engineering graduates dwindling, U.S. Senators promised legislation to refill America’s technical academic pipeline.
Offering few details, much less any budget numbers, the lawmakers said the bill they hope to offer next week will increase federal support for cutting edge, multidisciplinary research and support for “revolutionizing”
manufacturing technologies and processes.
In addition, the legislation will boost spending for the Technology Talent Act, which provides competitive grants to colleges and universities to increase the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“The number of jobs requiring technical training is growing at five times the rate of other occupations,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) said.
“However, the average number of students studying and entering these fields is declining and the average age of the U.S. science and engineering workforce is rising.”
According to Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), the U.S. is averaging 50,000 engineering graduates a year, with 40 percent of those from overseas. India is averaging 150,000 engineering graduates a year while China is graduating 250,000 engineers every year.
“I believe the American people will respond to this [legislation],” Allen said. “America must remain the world capital of innovation.”
Surrounded by members of the Council on Competitiveness, a non-profit group of CEO’s, college and university presidents and labor leaders, the lawmakers said they based their proposed legislation on the Council’s National Innovation Initiative Report released last year.
The report calls for creating 5,000 new graduate fellowships funded by federal research and development agencies, reworking immigration laws to allow foreign science and engineering students to stay and work in the U.S.
and building ten “innovation hot spots” over the next five years.
“The National Innovation Initiative has established a clear linkage between innovation and America’s long-term prosperity,” said Duane Ackerman, chairman and CEO of BellSouth and board chairman of the Council on Competitiveness.
The Council’s report also focuses the new shape of innovation in the 21st Century and claims it happens at the intersection of various disciplines.
Overall, the report outlines a set of recommendations grouped into three broad categories: talent, investment and infrastructure.
“Innovation and technology represent the cornerstones of America’s success in the 21st Century,” Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said. “New ideas, the development of new technologies and innovation will lead to a better educated workforce, a higher standard of living in the United States and a strengthened American economy.”
Lieberman said America’s long legacy of upward mobility for its citizens is at the very heart of the legislation.
“In the 1980’s, we were in a recession and facing a tough competitor in Japan,” he said. “We responded to that challenge, but now the challenge is back and there are more competitors and the level of competition is higher.”