Fewer Foreign Students, More Women Earn Science and Engineering Doctorates in U.S., Report
May 1, 2002- The Chronicle of Higher Education
By RON SOUTHWICK
Fewer foreign students are flowing into science and engineering graduate programs in the United States, more women are earning doctoral degrees in the sciences, and the number of colleges winning federal funds for research is dropping, according to a new report issued Tuesday by the National Science Foundation.
These are some of the findings in the NSF's latest volume of "Science and Engineering Indicators," a massive study tracking long-term trends in research spending. The foundation puts out the report every two years. It can be viewed on the NSF's Web site.
After 10 years of near-constant growth, the number of foreign students earning Ph.D.'s in science and engineering in the United
States fell from 13,381 in 1996 to 11,368 in 1999, the most recent year for which figures were available. The NSF report indicates that foreign students will continue to study in the United States, but notes that some Asian countries are becoming increasingly successful in keeping some of their best students home.
China's capacity to train its own students in scientific fields has grown significantly, the NSF report indicates. Only 125 students in China earned doctoral degrees in science and engineering in 1985. In 1999, 7,393 students in China received Ph.D.'s, more than in any other Asian country. By comparison, only 2,188 Chinese students earned doctorates in the United States that year. In Japan, the number of students earning Ph.D.'s in scientific disciplines rose to 6,575 in 1998 (the most recent figure available), nearly double the figure in 1988 (3,511).
From 1995 through 1999, Chinese and South Korean students earned more doctoral degrees in their home countries than in the United States. And in 1999, more Taiwanese students earned Ph.D.'s in Taiwan than in the United States, a first.
While the report acknowledges the important contributions of foreign scientists to the U.S. economy, it goes on to note that "the country's international economic competitiveness ultimately rests on the U.S. labor force's own capacity for innovation and productivity."
NSF officials said one surprise in the latest findings was the decline in the number of institutions winning federal research funds.
After a 20-year period in which more and more institutions received federal funds for research, the number of universities obtaining government grants has dropped in recent years. The report states that 559 colleges received federal research funds in
1999, compared with 676 in 1994. Most of the drop came as a result of community colleges and liberal-arts colleges no longer winning federal funds for research.
The number of women earning Ph.D.'s in the sciences rose to 9,396 in 2000, up from 6,932 in 1991. The number of white men who were awarded doctoral degrees in science or engineering during that span fell to 7,909, down from 8,585.
Members of underrepresented minority groups also represented a growing portion of graduate science and engineering programs, albeit still a small number. Members of such groups -- black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Alaska native -- make up 25 percent of the U.S. population but accounted for 9.3 percent of the students in graduate science and engineering programs in 1999.