Report endorses science funding

A new national report co-authored by Yale President Richard Levin urges the U.S. government to boost funding for education and research programs in the fields of math and science.

A National Academies panel composed of 20 educational and research experts compiled the study at Congress’s request. The report, which was released last Wednesday, recommends an additional $10 billion in federal funding to improve the nation’s standing in the sciences. Yale administrators and professors disagreed on the impact the policy recommendations, if adopted, will have on the University.

Levin said he supports the report’s major recommendations, including increased spending on science education at the K-12 level. The report reflects concern about global competition in the technology market, he said.

“My view was, this isn’t the time for bells and whistles,” Levin said. “This is the time to tell [Congress] what the most important priorities are — attracting good teachers, paying them well and continuing to fund basic research at a high level, or we will fall behind.”

Among the panel’s recommendations was the annual creation of 25,000 new undergraduate scholarships and 5,000 new graduate fellowships in the areas of math and science each year. The report, entitled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future,” also urges the government to double funding for physical science research.

Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton said it is hard to predict the impact of the proposed changes without knowledge of the final details.

“It’s difficult to know how an additional financial aid piece would fit in the context of Yale’s financial aid structure,” Hamilton said. “It would be hard to predict.”

The additional funding will likely increase the visibility of science and mathematics at Yale and encourage more undergraduates to pursue these subjects, Dean of Engineering Paul Fleury said. Yale students majoring in math or science have decreased by a third over the past seven years, according to Yale statistics.

“It would certainly have a positive effect, particularly for schools like Yale that have been known more for the liberal arts than science and engineering,” he said.

Physics Department Chair Ramamurti Shankar said he doubts the funding would affect undergraduate majors, although Yale’s graduate level research depends heavily on funding from the U.S. government.

“In every area of physics, I can think of people in our faculty who could benefit from an influx of money,” Shankar said. “They’re all operating on shoestring budgets.”

Shankar said the U.S. lags in research and development in part because jobs in these areas are outsourced to foreign countries. The U.S. is vulnerable to competition from India and parts of China because these countries provide strong preparation for careers in math and science, Hamilton said. U.S. visa restrictions also deter foreign applicants to American graduate schools, he said.

Foreign applications to American graduate schools dropped 32 percent last year, according to a March survey by the Council of Graduate Schools.

“It is clear that the U.S. runs a very real risk of falling behind our international competitors in math and science,” Hamilton said.

The report calls for the government to ease immigration restrictions to encourage more international students to study in the United States.

But Michael Neuschatz, a senior research associate at the American Institute of Physics, said he thinks the foreign threat to American industries is overstated.

“I’d prefer it when the question is framed more as global interchange and cooperation rather than a sense of global competition, with one country needing to be number one,” Neuschatz said.

Hamilton said it is unlikely that Congress will adopt the proposed measures, given the current pressure on the federal budget. Shankar also said he is skeptical that the proposal will pass, citing the government’s history of undercutting the physical sciences.

“So far the government has followed its own priorities and its own policies,” Shankar said. “The relevance of pure science is not understood by the average public.”

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