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Study: U.S. retains lead in science, tech

Leadership, however, increasingly relies on the brain power of foreign-born students and employees.

In sizing up the nation's status as a world leader in science and technology, here's a little good news-bad news from a study released Thursday by the nonprofit think tank Rand.

The U.S. remains the worldwide leader in science and technology, based on R&D spending, the number of Nobel Prize winners who call the U.S. home, and the number of top universities sitting on U.S. turf.

But the bad news is the U.S. educational system, kindergarten through high school, continues to underperform in developing bright minds in math and science. Europe and China are both graduating more university-educated engineers and scientists on a yearly basis than the U.S. As a result the U.S. may face an increasing reliance on foreign-born workers and foreign students in science and engineering to aid the nation in maintaining its lead, according to the report.

The study found that roughly 70 percent of foreign scientists and engineers who received Ph.D.s from U.S. universities remained in the country after receiving their degree, but that situation could change as salaries and research opportunities improve overseas, the report notes.

"Much of the concern about the U.S. losing its edge as the world's leader in science and technology appears to be unfounded," Titus Galama, a co-author of the Rand study, said in a statement. "But the United States cannot afford to be complacent. Effort is needed to make sure the nation maintains or even extends its standing."

According to the study, the U.S. accounts for 40 percent of all scientific R&D spending in the world, employs 70 percent of the world's Nobel Prize winners and houses 75 percent of the world's top 40 universities.

In order to maintain its lead, the Rand issued several recommendations:

• Establish a permanent commitment to fund a chartered body that would periodically monitor and analyze U.S. science and technology performance and the condition of the nation's science and engineering workforce.

• Make it easier for foreigners who have graduated from U.S. universities with science and engineering degrees to stay indefinitely in the U.S.

• Make it easier for highly skilled labor to immigrate to the U.S. to ensure the benefits of expanded innovation are captured in the U.S. and to help the U.S. remain competitive in research and innovation.

• Increase the United States' capacity to learn from science centers in Europe, Japan, China, India, and other countries.

The study further notes that issues related to skilled immigrant H-1B visas could lead to more domestic corporations outsourcing their research to foreign countries.