The number of US students going to graduate school for science and engineering hit an all-time high in 2005, offering a glimmer of hope to policymakers and business chiefs who have lamented that Americans are not interested in science.
A new survey conducted by the National Science Foundation shows that enrolment of US citizens and permanent residents in science and engineering graduate programmes increased 2 per cent, to a record 339,550.
The survey also showed a 4 per cent rise in first-time enrolments by foreign students, following three years of decline. However, total enrolment of foreign students in those subjects dropped 3 per cent - the second year in a row with a decline.
Kei Koizumi, the director of the R&D budget and policy programme at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, called the survey's findings "mixed".
"The good news, according to most policymakers, is that it appears Americans are going into science and engineering in greater numbers," he said. "But the drop in foreign students - whether it's because of real or perceived visa problems, or because students find it more attractive to study in other nations - is not as [encouraging]."
Applications from international students fell after the State Department imposed restrictions on foreign students in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"The single biggest challenge for colleges and universities being able to recruit top talent from around the world is our immigration system," said Robert Hoffman, the vice-president of government and public affairs at Oracle, the software company.
"The system is working as a barrier to recruitment. It's saying: you might be able to get a top-flight education at a US university but you might not be able to get a top-flight job at a US company after you graduate."
Total engineering enrolments fell by 2.5 per cent, largely because of a decline in foreign students, but total enrolments in mathematics and the physical sciences rose slightly, according to the survey. Enrolment of US citizens increased in all three categories but by less than 1 per cent in each.
Susan Traiman, the director of education and workforce policy at the Business Roundtable, said she was concerned that US graduate schools were losing their edge in attracting the most talented foreign students, as other countries, such as the UK and Australia, boosted their investment in graduate education and embarked on campaigns to recruit top domestic and international students.
"What these numbers seem to be saying is that top talent has many more options now," she said.
"If we don't have enough Americans going into these fields, and if we don't have the foreign talent to fill the gaps, it jeopardises US innovation - and that is the underpinning of American competitiveness."
美国国家科学基金会(National Science Foundation)的最新调查显示，入读科学与工程研究生课程的美国公民和永久性居民人数增长了2%，达到创纪录的33.955万人。
美国科学促进会(American Association for the Advancement of Science)研发预算及政策项目主管Kei Koizumi表示，此次调查的结果"喜忧参半"。
商业圆桌会议(Business Roundtable)的教育及就业政策主管苏珊o崔曼(Susan Traiman)表示，她感到担忧的是，随着英国和澳大利亚等其它国家纷纷提高自己在研究生教育方面的投资，并发起招募国内外优秀学生的攻势，美国研究生院正失去其在吸引外国最优秀人才方面的优势。