The presidents of the state's two flagship college campuses told dozens of faculty members Monday that Texas and the United States are in danger of being left behind in the global economy because the nation isn't producing enough scientists, mathematicians and engineers.
Texas A&M University President Robert Gates, who helped author a report commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, said the findings "paint a disturbing picture."
"The scientific and technological foundations of our economy are eroding at a time when other nations are beginning to gather strength," he said. "The federal government for some time now has not kept pace with needed research and development in the physical sciences."
The report, titled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," includes the following findings:
• The United States has become a net importer of high-technology products.
• The nation's trade balance in high-technology goods shifted from $54 billion in 1990 to a deficit of $50 billion in 2001.
• In 2005, U.S. investors put more new money in foreign stock funds than in domestic stock portfolios.
• In one recent period, low-wage employers - such as Wal-Mart and McDonald's - created 44 percent of the jobs in the nation, while high-wage employers created only 29 percent of those new jobs.
• In South Korea, 38 percent of all undergraduates receive their degrees in natural sciences or engineering; in France 47 percent earn those degrees; in China, 50 percent of the students study engineering or science; and in Singapore, 67 percent earn those degrees. In the United States, 15 percent of students earn degrees in the natural sciences or engineering.
• In 2004, China graduated about 350,000 engineers, computer scientists and information technologists with four-year degrees while the United States graduated about 140,000.
"What all this means is that the United States is beginning to lose ground, in some cases, even losing researchers to other countries offering greater support to these research endeavors," Gates said.
The committee that wrote the report also made suggestions that include tax credit incentives for research and development, and increasing federal investment in long-term research. The committee suggested that hundreds of $500,000 research grants be awarded.
Comments made by University of Texas President William Powers during the annual joint meeting of the A&M Faculty Senate and the U.T. Faculty Council complemented those from Gates.
Powers, who in February took over the top position at the University of Texas, said universities and the government need to prepare for the future, and the two Tier I research institutions need to move ahead in a shared quest for knowledge.
"We are about to have a freight train come down the tracks if we don't get ready for the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, to grow the jobs and grow the political leadership so that our kids have the same kind of opportunities that we've had," he said. "I think one of the great blessings I had as coming into the presidency of the University of Texas is that you have a president that thinks the same way. We have talked, and we are committed to working together."
Of the 450 planned faculty additions under A&M's faculty reinvestment plan, some 275 are intended to be world-class specialists in science and engineering, Gates said.
A&M alone has more than $500 million in externally funded research grants, he said.
"I firmly believe that Texas has the opportunity to lead the effort to bolster American innovation, mainly due to the work under way at both the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M," Gates said.
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