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The “I’s” Have It: Immigration and Innovation, the Perspective from Academe

In: Innovation Policy and the Economy, Volume 10


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  • Paula E. Stephan


Considerable attention has focused in recent years on the role the academy plays in fostering innovation. Here we demonstrate that the foreign born are a large and growing component of the U.S. university community. They compose more than 25% of the tenure‐track faculty, make up approximately 60% of the postdoctoral population, and represent more than 43% of the doctoral degrees awarded in science and engineering. Almost 50% of the latter come from the three countries of China, India, and South Korea. The foreign born contribute to the productivity of the university. For example, 44% of the first authors of U.S. papers in Science are foreign. There is some evidence that the foreign born contribute disproportionately to exceptional contributions in science and engineering and, at least at elite universities, that their marginal product is higher than that of the native born. They also constitute approximately one‐third of the placements of new PhDs with U.S. firms—a major mechanism by which tacit knowledge is transmitted from the university to industry. Not all of the foreign born who come to study or work in the United States stay. The 10‐year stay rate for those who received their PhDs, for example, is 58%. It increased dramatically in the 1990s, but the pattern appears to have leveled off recently and is likely to decline as developing countries recruit scientists and engineers to work in newly emerging sectors as well as universities. Despite spillovers to other countries, the simplest of calculations leads one to conclude that in the past the United States has gained far more than it has lost by the foreign born coming to study and work in science and engineering at U.S. universities. Whether these benefits persist depends upon whether the foreign born continue to come in large numbers and to stay in large numbers. The stimulus package and President Obama’s proposed 2010 budget, with its funds for R&D, provide resources that could encour

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This chapter was published in:

  • Josh Lerner & Scott Stern, 2010. "Innovation Policy and the Economy, Volume 10," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number lern09-1, July.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 11766.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:11766

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    Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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    1. Paula Stephan & Jennifer Ma, 2005. "The Increased Frequency and Duration of the Postdoctorate Career Stage," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 71-75, May.
    2. John Bound & Sarah Turner & Patrick Walsh, 2009. "Internationalization of U.S. Doctorate Education," NBER Working Papers 14792, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. William R. Kerr, 2007. "The Ethnic Composition of US Inventors," Harvard Business School Working Papers, Harvard Business School 08-006, Harvard Business School.
    4. Grant C. Black & Paula E. Stephan, 2010. "The Economics of University Science and the Role of Foreign Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars," NBER Chapters, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, in: American Universities in a Global Market, pages 129-161 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. William R. Kerr, 2005. "Ethnic Scientific Communities and International Technology Diffusion," Harvard Business School Working Papers, Harvard Business School 06-022, Harvard Business School, revised Apr 2007.
    6. James D. Adams, 2004. "Scientific Teams and Institution Collaborations: Evidence from U.S. Universities, 1981-1999," NBER Working Papers 10640, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Gregory Attiyeh & Richard Attiyeh, 1997. "Testing for Bias in Graduate School Admissions," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 32(3), pages 524-548.
    8. Shiferaw Gurmu & Grant C. Black & Paula E. Stephan, 2010. "The Knowledge Production Function For University Patenting," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, Western Economic Association International, vol. 48(1), pages 192-213, 01.
    9. Wesley M. Cohen & Richard R. Nelson & John P. Walsh, 2002. "Links and Impacts: The Influence of Public Research on Industrial R&D," Management Science, INFORMS, INFORMS, vol. 48(1), pages 1-23, January.
    10. Adams, James D, 1990. "Fundamental Stocks of Knowledge and Productivity Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(4), pages 673-702, August.
    11. Sharon G. Levin & Grant C. Black & Anne E. Winkler & Paula E. Stephan, 2004. "Differential Employment Patterns for Citizens and Non-Citizens in Science and Engineering in the United States: Minting and Competitive Effects," Growth and Change, Gatton College of Business and Economics, University of Kentucky, Gatton College of Business and Economics, University of Kentucky, vol. 35(4), pages 456-475.
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