The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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US pain needn’t be our gain
- Study says science superpower’s dominance is on wane

New Delhi, July 9: American dominance in science and engineering may be slipping as its share of graduates in these fields have fallen relative to Europe, China and India, according to a study released yesterday. But India is nowhere close to taking advantage of this trend, science analysts here said.

The new study, by Richard Freeman at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Washington, warned that changes in the global science and engineering job market may require a long period of adjustment for US workers.

The moves by international companies to shift jobs in information technology, high-tech manufacturing and research and development to low-income developing countries are just “harbingers” of that longer-term adjustment, Freeman said.

“The US worry may be justified, but India is not in a position to take advantage of this and emerge a technology power,” said Dr Rajesh Kochchar, director of the government’s National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies (Nistads) in Delhi.

A senior scientist from India’s strategic technology sector warned that the movement of jobs from the US to India in IT or research and development is siphoning high-quality talent from Indian institutions struggling to develop strategic indigenous technology.

The US has had a substantial lead in science and technology since World War II. With just 5 per cent of the world’s population, it employs almost a third of science and engineering researchers, accounts for 40 per cent of research and development spending and publishes 35 per cent of science and engineering research papers.

Many of the world’s top high-tech firms are American, and government spending on defence-related technology ensures the US military’s technological dominance on battlefields.

But the roots of this lead may be eroding, Freeman said.

The numbers of science and engineering graduates from European and Asian universities are soaring while new degrees in the US have stagnated -- cutting its overall share.

In 2000, the paper said, 17 per cent of university bachelor degrees in the US were in science and engineering compared with a world average of 27 per cent and 52 per cent in China.

The picture among doctorates -- key to advanced scientific research -- was more striking. In 2001, universities in the European Union granted 40 per cent more science and engineering doctorates than the US, with the figure expected to reach 100 per cent by 2010, the study showed.

These trends are challenging the so-called North-South global economic divide, the paper said, by undermining a perceived rich-country advantage in high technology.

“Research and technological activity and production are moving where the people are, even when they are located in the low-wage south,” Freeman wrote, citing a study saying some 10 to 15 per cent of all US jobs are “offshorable”.

But Indian analysts cautioned that while the inflow of jobs in IT and business process outsourcing (BPO) does help the Indian economy in a limited manner, it does not help develop indigenous technologies.

Several top US corporations have set up research and development centres in India. “But there’s little to celebrate about this,” said Nistads director Kochchar. “A nation doesn’t become a technology power by getting its people to work for wages.

“The scientists in such research centres contribute only piecemeal to components of a technology that will be completed abroad. And the patents are held by the company -- there is no long-term gain to India in terms of technology.”

One technology analyst here said US dominance in strategic technology is unlikely to change in the near future. “US dominance is far out. I don’t see that changing.”

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