The new Oz  pg. 4

Lin Mei, M.D., Ph.D.
Photo by Billy Howell,
Georgia Research Alliance
It’s a sign of the times, Mei says. “China is becoming an exciting place to do research. When I was a master’s student in China (23 years ago), the research opportunities were very limited; there was not much you could do. Nowadays, the government is investing lots of money in research.”

In 2006, China announced plans to nearly double its R&D spending as a proportion of GDP within 15 years; the proportion—2.5 percent—will be similar to that of the United States. Expenditures will grow from $30 billion in 2005 to $112 billion in 2020. (The United States currently spends about $300 billion.)

Also troubling are the foreign-born students who are no longer coming to the United States in the first place.

U.S. graduate school applications from foreign students fell 28 percent in 2004, and dropped another five percent in 2005, Kao writes. Among the reasons: attractive graduate programs all over the world—often at lower cost compared to American programs—and greater difficulties in obtaining student visas.

More restrictive post-9/11 immigration policies are making it difficult to attract not just students and trainees, but also foreign-born scientists.

In the 1990s, 195,000 H-1B visas (valid for up to six years) were available annually for people with technical skills and an employment sponsor. That number dropped to 65,000 in 2003. For fiscal year 2008, the limit of H-1B visas was reached on the first day that applications were accepted, according to Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, published by the National Science Board.

“The United States has been at the cutting edge of science for the past 100 years,” says Mei. “One driving force for America’s global position has been an influx of highly talented immigrants. If foreign students and postdocs are not encouraged to come, if there is no effort to keep them, I see a huge problem in the future.

“How can the United States stay at the cutting edge?”

View from the Titanic

Competition for the global talent pool isn’t threatening the United States’ preeminence in biomedical research. Yet.

By many measures, America is on top of its game. The Council on Competitiveness wrote in its 2007 report, “Competitiveness Index: Where America Stands,” that “with only 5 percent of the world’s population, America employs nearly one-third of the world’s science and engineering researchers, accounts for 40 percent of global research and development spending, and publishes 30 percent of all scientific articles.”

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