CSEdWeek is in full swing and one of the many events being held was a lunch briefing today on Capitol Hill. A full committee room of attendees and two Congressmen came to hear about the importance of computer science education in the K – 12 classroom.
CSEdWeek Chair Ruthe Farmer from NCWIT spoke about the need to differentiate between the use of technology and the creation of technology. It is still difficult in many areas in the US to explain that just because children are using computers in their classrooms that does not mean they are learning computer science.
Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL) spoke about the need for more computer science education in order for the jobs of the future to be filled in the US instead of outsourced to countries that are teaching computing to their students. Polis noted that a bill he sponsored, the CS Education Act, would place computer science in the core subjects of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that is the overarching federal law affecting K – 12 education.
Douglas Rushkoff, author of “Program or Be Programmed”, spoke to the need for digital fluency among the populace and that we should be teaching students how to create the technology of tomorrow rather than how to use the technology of today. Brenda Wilkerson from the Chicago Public Schools noted that it is with partnerships between local K – 12 schools, colleges, and companies that necessary changes to teaching and curriculum can be made. The panel also featured a computer science major from UMBC who spoke to her journey into CS in college. Alison Derbenwick Miller of Oracle Academy rounded out the panel with the call to action that the US needs a rigorous, continuous computer science education from elementary to post-secondary school to remain competitive.
Robert Atkinson, president of ITIF, and Dennis Shea, chair of the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission, testified today before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Investigation and Oversight hearing on “The Impact of International Technology Transfer on American Research and Development”.
Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) started the hearing with the fact that many business people were unwilling to testify on the topic because of a fear of retaliation against their businesses by foreign governments and noted that technology transfer may not be optional if a company wants access to a market – a directly opposing business climate to the one that we have in the US.
Atkinson gave an overview of the big picture surrounding technology transfer from the US to other countries. IP theft, weak IP protections, IP laws that are not enforced, foreign state owned companies purchasing US companies, and countries with large markets requiring local joint ventures, compulsory licensing, and other measures in order to access the markets are all drains on the research and development of science and technology of US companies. He said raising awareness of this issue with policy makers is important as well as increasing enforcement via USTR. Additionally, making joint agreements with other countries such as the EU and Japan to act as one against such policies using trade agreements would be helpful.
Shea noted that the US China Economic and Security Review Commission released its 2012 report to Congress in November and that most of his testimony was based on the report. He noted that China is completely honest about its goals of gaining expertise in high tech areas to transition away from a manufacturing economy and that the fastest, easiest way for China to do this is to get the technological foundation from other countries. China’s policies require a joint venture with a Chinese company, often a state owned company, to do business in China and that the technology transfer must be made before such a venture can be made. Such policies are, in the US view, a violation of the WTO compliance that China agreed to when it was accepted. Shea agreed with Atkinson about the need to use trade agreements to band together with other countries to push back against such policies and he also stated that the US should demand reciprocity from China and Chinese companies.
Both witnesses noted that this kind of tech transfer is not voluntary but is required in order to access the markets of countries such as China, India, and Brazil – markets so large that they are not optional in today’s globally competitive environment. However, policy and legislative solutions are not straightforward or easy. Blanket policies forbidding tech transfer to foreign countries would give a significant competitive advantage to companies from outside the US. One possible solution that both stated might be helpful is to create industry antitrust exemptions so that all the companies in a specific industry can agree to keep the technology and research in the US and not be threatened by a competitor gaining market advantage by going to a large foreign market. Atkinson also recommended having research funding agencies monitor where the commercialization of technology they have funded happens in order to see if tax payer investments are staying in the US.
The full written testimony of both witnesses can be found here.
PCAST released a new report on Friday called “Transformation and Opportunity: The Future of the Research Enterprise” at the National Academy of Sciences. While acknowledging America’s continued success in scientific and technological research and development, the report warns that we must not be complacent in our position as the world leader. Global competition in scientific research continues to increase and corporate focus is more and more on near term development and less on basic and longer term applied research.
“We need to strengthen basic research at our great universities—that’s the primary platform on which new industries are built. And we need policies that encourage industry to keep the commercially directed parts of research and development in the United States. If we do both, then we can continue to create new industries and new jobs here at home,” said William Press, PCAST member and co-chair of the working group that wrote the report.
At the release event, Subra Suresh, NSF Director, spoke about the importance of increasing the funding for basic research and the need for more interdisciplinary research. “Risk taking interdisciplinary research leads to a change in culture at institutions” and a break down of stove pipes, Suresh said.
The report recommends:
- Increased R&D spending to 3 percent of GDP from the current rate of 2.9 percent of GDP
- Increased stability and predictability of federal research funding, including funding for research infrastructure and facilities
- Make the research and experimentation tax credit permanent and increase the rate of the alternative simplified credit to 20 percent
- Eliminate regulations and policies that do not add value or enhance accountability—especially those that decrease the productivity of the Nation’s research universities
- Improve undergraduate STEM education by adopting empirically validated best practices to attract and retain the most talented and motivated STEM students, as described in more detail in PCAST’s recent “Engage to Excel” report
- Attract and retain the world’s best researchers and students from abroad by, for example, giving STEM graduates from accredited U.S. universities a fast-tracked, long-term visa
On the last recommendation, the House of Representatives passed the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 on Friday. It would abolish the current visa lottery system and implement 55,000 visas for doctorate and masters level STEM graduates.