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Survey Sounds Wake-Up Call

By Catherine Varmazis

July | August 2006 | A recent survey of senior executives reveals their belief that the United States is losing its competitive edge in educating future scientists. Law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP conducted the survey of 139 senior executives, mostly chief scientific officers (CSOs), at the recent 2006 BIO show in Chicago, in association with its annual CSO “boot camp.” Participants represented both American and overseas organizations in industrial and environmental biotech, healthcare, and agri-biotech, says Jeffrey Libson, head of Pepper Hamilton’s Life Sciences Practice.

Among the survey’s findings:

  • CSOs give American schools (both high schools and universities) low marks for preparing students for a scientific career, with 51 percent of respondents saying the United States is doing either a poor job or a very poor job.
  • Lack of funding is the single most significant barrier to bringing more bioscience products and services to market.
  • Finding a balance between scientific progress and ethical issues is a matter of grave concern to two-thirds of respondents.

“While the U.S. is still considered the world leader in educating the next generation of scientists, India, China, and Japan are viewed as closing in rapidly,” says Libson. Just 25 percent of respondents rated the United States number one, with India rated number one by 18 percent of respondents, China and Japan with 15 percent each, and Germany with 9 percent.

Forty-six percent of respondents cited the financial struggle of biotech firms to remain in business until they were able to deliver viable products as the biggest barrier to success. Libson says he was heartened by the CSOs’ concern on ethical issues, which shows that they are “aligned with the general public” on these matters.

Acknowledging that the survey did not explore individual issues in great depth, Libson says it was the first of its kind that Pepper Hamilton has conducted and, as such, establishes benchmarks for issues the firm may explore in more detail in future studies.

The survey is a wake-up call for U.S. high school and college science curricula, says Libson. It also has implications for immigration because U.S. companies will continue to import scientific talent from abroad, he says, while at the same time the trend toward outsourcing will continue to grow.

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