FYI: Science Policy News
FYI
/
Article

US Still Leads World in R&D Spending but Faces ‘Crisis’ in STEM Workforce, NSF Board Argues

MAR 18, 2024
NSF’s board urges the U.S. to ramp up domestic STEM education as well as recruitment of workers from abroad.
lindsay-mckenzie-2.jpg
Science Policy Reporter, FYI American Institute of Physics
Number of S&E Master's and Doctorate Students by Country

Chart illustrating the large number of science and engineering graduate students in the U.S. from China and India. The chart also displays enrollment figures from other countries that the National Science Board identifies as potential “emerging science partner countries.”

(National Science Board)

The National Science Foundation’s biennial report on the state of U.S. science and engineering, published last week, found that the U.S. continues to spend more on R&D than any other country. The U.S. spent $806 billion, or 3.5% of its GDP, on R&D in 2021, the latest year for which data is available.

By comparison, R&D spending was $668 billion for China, $177 billion for Japan, and $154 billion for Germany, the next three highest spenders. However, the report highlights that the U.S. is particularly dependent on STEM workers born outside the U.S. at a time when math test scores for U.S.-born elementary and secondary students are low, having dropped sharply during the pandemic.

The U.S. STEM workforce consisted of 36.8 million people in 2021, and of these, 19% were born abroad, the report found. Foreign-born workers also accounted for 43% of all doctoral-level scientists and engineers in the U.S.

In a policy brief accompanying the report, NSF’s governing board argues that the U.S. now faces an “accelerating STEM talent crisis,” in part due to the longstanding underperformance of the U.S. pre-K-12 education system in comparison with many peer countries.

Another vulnerability identified by the board is the U.S.’s outsized reliance on acquiring STEM workers from just two countries, China and India. Accordingly, the board recommends the U.S. rapidly ramp up efforts to increase the domestic STEM workforce as well as enact policies to attract and retain STEM talent from around the world.

The board also suggests a new focus on recruiting from “emerging science partner countries,” defined as “low-and middle-income countries building their R&D enterprises that are poised to become the collaborators of tomorrow.”

This news brief originally appeared in FYI’s newsletter for the week of March 18.

Related Topics
More from FYI
FYI
/
Article
Kevin Geiss will lead the arm of the Air Force Research Lab that focuses on fundamental research.
FYI
/
Article
An NSF-commissioned report argues for the U.S. to build a new observatory to keep up with the planned Einstein Telescope in Europe.
FYI
/
Article
Space, fusion energy, AI, quantum technology, and semiconductors were among the topics of discussion.
FYI
/
Article
The camera has a lens that is more than five feet across and will be installed at the Rubin Observatory in Chile.

Related Organizations