With the Olympics quickly approaching, the world’s eyes are on China and its rising power as a world influence.
Experts at the Heritage Foundation recently said that China now has the third largest economy in the world; it is the second largest after the U.S.
In addition, 2003 marked the first year China’s GDP reached over one trillion dollars; it hit 1.4 trillion dollars, to be exact. China is a top steel, aluminum and fine copper producer. It has the world’s second largest auto market.
But even more importantly, China is the biggest producer of information-technology (IT) products, according to the panelists. And by IT, they don’t just mean producing computers; they mean intelligence or cyber-spying.
“China will soon surpass the U.S. in the critical ability to develop science and technology and to turn science into marketable products,” said John Tkacik, a Senior Fellow at Heritage, quoting from a study conducted by Georgia Institute of Technology.
Jim O’Neill, CEO of CompuDyne Corporation, spoke about “Technology’s Role in Addressing National and Global Priorities” in Baltimore, Md. He argues that apathy toward math and science is preventing the production of “marketable products.”
O’Neill said that America may be losing its technological advantage in the global market. He said that “mastering the governing commodity” of an era is the key to being number one. However, America’s “governing commodity” is no longer technology. It is intelligence, according to O’Neill.
“For many decades, up until thirty or forty years ago, the governing commodity of our age was industrial capacity,” said O’Neill. “On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy had ten aircraft carriers to our seven. By war’s end…they had four still floating and we had a hundred.”
O’Neill, former president of Northrop Grumman’s Information Technology sector, one of the world’s leading providers of advanced IT engineering, said that fewer young people are graduating with degrees in math, science and engineering. This could pose a serious problem to the future of IT and national security, he said. “….. For several years, America has been bracing for a tidal wave of retirements of our best technical minds,” said O’Neill. “When that wave hits, we will have difficulty replacing them.”
In fact, Tkacik said that more foreigners than U.S. students are graduating with degrees in technology from U.S. colleges. This is bad for the United States, because the graduates move back to their countries after graduation.
“Of the 82 doctorates at the University of Virginia [in 2008], 46 were granted to foreigners, 26 [of those foreigners] were Chinese,” said Tkacik. “I suspect the same thing holds true for other universities.”
O’Neill said that 70,000 students graduate per year with a degree in science or technology in America. However, half of these students are foreigners. India graduates about 200,000 per year and China graduates about 500,000.
“[American] Aerospace companies require that you be a U.S. citizen [to work],” said O’Neill. “Some of those students are so brilliant…[and] you force them to go back to their native countries, which is a loss for the United States…”
Since students are being forced to return to their countries, O’Neill argued that American students need to be encouraged to study math and science. He quoted former Senators Gary Hart and Wareen Rudman as saying that “the inadequacies of our system of research and education pose a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine.”
O’Neill told an audience of about 100 IT leaders that educating today’s youth is the key to training tomorrow’s technology leaders. However, the shortage of teachers is also a major problem. “U.S. school districts will need to hire 240,000 middle school and high school math and science teachers by 2010 to correct the shortage,” said O’Neill. “This is not a problem to brush off.”
O’Neill said that solution is to get the government, large companies, and educational institutes to work together. “You need to get kids excited about math and science at a much younger age,” said O’Neill. “Kids need to visually see something tangible made through science and technology.”
Since America’s governing commodity is no longer technology, it is necessary to focus on intellectual capital, O’Neill insisted.
“If we lose our leadership in intellectual capital, we lose our position of leadership in the world,” said O’Neil.