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U.S. Losing Competitive Edge, Speaker Says
William Harris spoke in Wilde Auditorium Tuesday as part of the Rogow Distinguished Visiting Lecturers Program.
“America, and Connecticut, need a new attitude towards their competitive position,” said Harris, the founding director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the newly named founding CEO of Science Foundation Arizona (SFA). Harris gave a talk in Wilde Auditorium on March 28 as part of the Rogow Distinguished Visiting Lecturers Program.
He offered some chilling statistics on how the United States is falling behind its global competitors in science and engineering education. In 2005, China awarded 600,000 engineering degrees, India awarded 350,000, and the U.S. awarded just 70,000, Harris said. He also noted that currently, on average, only 18 out of every 100 high school freshmen in the U.S. will earn a bachelor’s degree.
But Harris believes that the nation can regain its place as a leader in the science, engineering and technology fields. “We need the same sense of urgency that we had after the Sputnik launch,” he said.
Harris listed a number of steps that the United States must take to turn around this decline. “We need to make education a core value in this country,” he said, noting that countries such as China, India, and Ireland have made dramatic gains in the percentage of their populations earning college degrees because of the emphasis they place on education.
Harris also suggested that America’s colleges and universities need to be more involved with K-12 education. “Universities must not be islands unto themselves. Our universities must care about the quality of K-12 education because those are their customers of the future,” he said. Harris praised the University of Hartford for its role in the development of the University High School of Science and Engineering, and said that others should follow this example.
In addition, state leaders need to support research and development efforts that can transfer ideas into new companies in their states’ economies, rather than expecting federal money to do this, Harris said.