engineering talent available to the workforce. The United States was able to attract the most qualified international talent by being the most technologically advanced country, by having a growing economy, by possessing a disproportionate share of the world’s finest research universities, and by committing to a world-leading higher education and research culture with strong financial support by the U.S. government (e.g., through research assistantships, funding for basic research, and support for research equipment). With less than 5 percent of the global population but a quarter of its economy, the United States had the rare opportunity to attract the very best of the global science and engineering talent pool to its workforce, and it capitalized on this remarkable, though unsustainable, circumstance. In 2006 the most likely undergraduate alma mater of a U.S. PhD graduate in science and engineering was Tsinghua University in Beijing, followed closely by Peking University (Mervis, 2008). The University of California, Berkeley, ranked third after having held first place for all earlier rankings. Ranked a close fourth, and rising rapidly, was Seoul National University in Korea. In 2010, the most recent year for which data were available, Berkeley had regained the top spot, principally because students from Tsinghua and Beijing Universities, graduating the top students in China, are not enrolling in U.S. PhD programs as they did earlier (Figure 1-2). The 2010-2011 World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. undergraduate higher education system 26th out of 139 countries and secondary education in mathematics and science 52nd (World Economic Forum, 2010, pp. 21 and 421).

The United States is no longer the beneficiary of uncompetitive higher education and job opportunities abroad that had earlier inspired large numbers of international students and scholars to come to and remain in America. As the standards of higher education and job opportunities abroad continue to rise, the competition in recruiting top talent to the United States can only increase. The emerging economies of China and India now offer attractive opportunities for wealth and professional growth for scientists and engineers. International universities and businesses are recruiting international students (and faculty) with first-class research facilities and opportunities, a force with which the United States has never had to compete. And while the numbers of students from India and China coming to the United States for graduate study remain high (Figure 1-3) and while they often pay their own way, a look below the surface shows that those attending U.S. universities are no longer at the very top of their national talent pool as they once were.1 Attractive opportunities in other countries have made recruitment of the top talent a competitive challenge that the United States did not face in the past.

An April 2011 report from the Kauffman Foundation (Wadhwa et al., 2011) points to indicators that Indian and Chinese residents in the United States are returning home in increasing numbers because of economic opportunities, access to local markets, and family ties. The Chinese Ministry of Education estimated that the number of overseas returnees to China in 2009 increased 56 percent over the previous year, and in 2010 the number increased another 33 percent over 2009 to a global total of 134,800 (China Daily, 2010, 2011). Over 80 percent of Chinese returnees and 70 percent of Indian returnees indicated that the opportunity to start a business was more favorable at home than in the United States. Many other countries, such as Taiwan, Singapore, and Ireland, are recruiting high-quality S&T talents from abroad.

The challenges for the United States in the 21st century environment outlined above are significant, though until recently the U.S. public and government tended to look inward and did not show evidence of comprehending the seriousness of such challenges.


In this rapidly changing world, the technologies of importance to the military are created globally in increasing numbers, including those widely employed in U.S. weapons systems. The development of a weapons system— including all components, tools, and raw materials—entirely in the United States is uncommon if not altogether nonexistent. Efforts to predict the technologies that will be most needed by the military beyond the near term have always been unreliable. Resource limitations and the expanding range of S&T developments globally will nonetheless require DOD to select the S&T areas where it will maintain technological superiority. However, it will also be important for DOD to retain the capacity to ramp up programs quickly to become competitive in

1 For example, the number of graduates from India’s premier technical university, the Indian Institutes of Technology, who seek graduate study and research opportunities in the United States declined from 80 percent in 1997 to just 16 percent in 2011. See the Times of India (2011).

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement