On Dec. 4, the Hamilton Project, an initiative by the Brookings Institution intended to formulate an economic strategy to advance opportunities and growth in the United States, released a series of discussion papers. Among the topics addressed in them is the need to increase the number of qualified U.S. students pursuing graduate degrees in science and engineering.
The Hamilton Project asserts that growth in IT, in particular, has facilitated deeper integration of economies across the globe, while also posing both new opportunities and challenges for the U.S. economy.
“The U.S. is at the frontier of modern scientific and technological advances, which means that sustaining economic growth depends substantially on our ability to advance that frontier,” said Peter Orszag, Hamilton Project director. “We don’t have the advantage other countries have in moving up to the technological frontier — we need to be pushing it forward. The way that we can best remain at the technological frontier is by investing in individuals.”
This is the central point of one of the project’s new papers, “Investing in the Best and Brightest: Increased Fellowship Support for American Scientists and Engineers,” by Richard Freeman, professor of economics at Harvard University. The paper advocates creating fellowships that increase the supply of scientific and engineering talent in the U.S.
Freeman feels IT is an essential field to point students toward in order for the United States to remain globally competitive, and he points out how a graduate-level fellowship provides some insurance on a student’s time investment.
“You always worry in IT, ‘What happens if, when they graduate, the market is not doing so well?’” Freeman said. “By giving large scholarships to people to study, we’re front loading their pay. If, when they graduate, the market hasn’t expanded the way we hope it will, they haven’t been misled because we’ve given them a good payment for this period of study.”
Freeman also said IT is the most important component driving economic globalization.
“We put a great stress on trade treaties in discussions of trade, but I would say that technology has been more important in expanding trade than the trade treaties, as it has a tremendous effect on the job situations faced by people,” Freeman said. “At one point, people viewed globalization and technology as competing explanations of what was going on with the U.S. economy, and I think in fact the correct assessment is that they’re incredibly complementary.”