The above paper reminded me another white paper published a couple of years ago by the Office of Chief Scientist of Australia, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the National Interest: A Strategic Approach, a position paper which focuses on philosophical strategies not specific solutions. The Australian position paper mentions a “whole Government Approach” in defining goals of investment in STEM (understanding and impact of STEM to society) and pathways to a better Australia from STEM investment through education. Although this paper offered little specifics (solutions) but it emphasized broad guidelines in education for enhancing STEM: incentives for schools, flexibility for post-compulsory education, corporate and education partnership for workforce and community avenues such as museums, libraries etc. Australia cited the U.S. call for 30% increase in STEM graduates but claimed that Australia is different. I tend to agree with this paper’s philosophy but cannot help feeling thirsty for some specifics.
A very recent article, The Frenzy about High Tech Talent by Andrea Hacker published on July 9th, 2015, New York Book of Review, is a sort of contrarian paper on the STEM focus. Hacker reviews and cites the arguments in the book, Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent, authored by Michael S. Teitelbaum, published by Princeton University Press and a number of other books. Teitelbaum argues that we have enough or more STEM graduates than job occupation needs (Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): 760,000 engineering degree graduates in the coming decade is about five times of the engineering jobs available); we have more STEM students dropping out of STEM fields in colleges (the freshman STEM students fell 1/3 in graduation) due to poor teaching in STEM fields and grim job prospects. The corporations’ complaint of shortage of skilled graduates to fill private sector jobs is hypocrisy as they prefer to hire immigrants under H1-B (262,569 in 2012) who accept lower pay and long working hours. Hacker cited a few differences in student study habit such as heavy tutoring and cram study for tests in Asian countries as well as Finland’s attracting better teachers for teaching lower grades, but disappointedly, Hacker in his review of several books offered no concrete or useful suggestions in clarifying the STEM issue and solving the STEM skill supply and job creation dilemma.
How can there be less demand for engineers, since predictions for STEM say their skills will be sorely needed? The BLS projects that in the decade ending in 2022, the number of engineering jobs will have 10.6 percent rise in the workforce as a whole, albeit not in traditional engineering such as chemical, mechanical and electrical. At the core of the ever-rising global interest in science and technology lies the correlation of the advances in national economies or better livelihood for their citizens with STEM education and STEM jobs. Innovative achievements often lead to improved economic competitiveness abroad and locally produced goods and services with Science and technology elements certainly enhance the lives of people. Although the United States remains the leading nation in terms of military capabilities and economic prowess, but globalization has produced rising powers. Governments and population of almost all countries respect the Science &Technology (S&T) capabilities of the United States. More than 300,000 foreign students enter studies in STEM throughout the U.S. Yet, we see the decline of the U.S. STEM power, for example, low ranking in PISA score and only 4% graduating with BS Engineering in the U.S. versus 31% in China (a cool two million per year). So let me devote the remaining space to discuss this serious issue – how can the U.S. (perhaps any other nation) maintain a lead in S&T or STEM power?
Let us first look at the STEM population in a country, people who possess STEM knowledge and skill and apply STEM power to their work. We may use a Gaussian curve with its peak located at zero to represent the STEM society, with the height representing the advance level of STEM and its width at a given STEM level representing its population. The area under the half curve represents the STEM power of a society; the highly skilled are generally less in number (on top of the Gaussian curve) and the lower skilled are on the lower curve with more population as applicator or user of STEM. Increasing advanced research raises the height of STEM curve; creating more jobs requiring STEM skills increases the width of the curve. The size of the area under the curve represents the total STEM power. Increasing STEM professionals and STEM jobs is a chicken and egg issue. Students will be less interested in STEM studies because of a lack of STEM jobs; conversely STEM jobs will not be created if adequate STEM skills are not available. In order to increase STEM power and to break the dilemma, the following policies may be considered:
1. Raising STEM power requires investment to produce STEM skilled people and to create STEM dependent jobs. A more effective and risk sharing policy is to create a STEM tax to tax all businesses and business transactions with a STEM tax. Use STEM taxes to fund S&T research and development jobs. It is justifiable to tax corporations who do not maintain a percentage of their revenue to do STEM related research since all businesses are benefitted by STEM.
2. Applying STEM income tax on foreign workers on the same job not performed by domestic citizens; the rational is that the foreign workers will be benefitted from STEM education and STEM job.
3. Applying STEM tax on research, development and manufacturing employment on foreign land offered by domestic corporations since STEM jobs are exported.
4. Offering scholarships in STEM subjects for domestic students but maintaining competitive standard with no racial bias or racial protection with the purpose of raising and sustaining STEM power by getting a healthy return on investment.
5. Taxing foreign students on scholarship or assistantship with STEM tax through their universities, eliminating subsidizing foreign students in the same manner taxing foreign workers learning on the STEM jobs.
6. Subsidizing high school expense and domestic college student tuition for citizens working and earning abroad on STEM jobs. Encouraging older STEM workers to relocate to foreign STEM jobs so more domestic STEM jobs will be available for STEM graduates.
7. Applying STEM tax to all highly paid jobs such as sports and entertainment performers whose jobs obviously depended on S&T and other STEM professionals.
Under a global competitive STEM world, advancement in S&T will make lower STEM skills obsolete by nature of progress. Automation will replace or reduce lower level STEM jobs. Hence, we need to constantly create higher level STEM jobs and keep them prestigious so that STEM professionals will be well respected in the society. A simple across the board STEM tax system is perhaps the sensible way to support the STEM power and sustain a STEM society in a global competitive environment.