Bill Gates: Industry needs more foreign scientists, better math/sci education

Innovation, Microsoft chairman says, drives US economy and the quality of math and science education, along with tight limits on H-1B visas, are hurting.

In an op-ed piece for the Washington Post Sunday, Bill Gates calls on government to pay attention to the importance of innovation in economic health. He highlights two areas he says are critically important: math and science education and H-1B visas.

Gates notes with dismay that on an international math test in 2003, U.S. high school students ranked 24th out of 29 industrialized nations surveyed.

Our schools can do better. Last year, I visited High Tech High in San Diego; it's an amazing school where educators have augmented traditional teaching methods with a rigorous, project-centered curriculum. Students there know they're expected to go on to college. This combination is working: 100 percent of High Tech High graduates are accepted into college, and 29 percent major in math or science. Contrast that with the national average of 17 percent.

To remain competitive in the global economy, we must build on the success of such schools and commit to an ambitious national agenda for education. Government and businesses can both play a role. Companies must advocate for strong education policies and work with schools to foster interest in science and mathematics and to provide an education that is relevant to the needs of business. Government must work with educators to reform schools and improve educational excellence.

Until America starts producing the number of computers scientists and hard scientists that industry needs, there will be a crying need to import more foreign high-tech workers. But with H-1B visas limited to 65,000, there just isn't a big enough labor pool, Gates says.

Last year, reform on this issue stalled as Congress struggled to address border security and undocumented immigration. As lawmakers grapple with those important issues once again, I urge them to support changes to the H-1B visa program that allow American businesses to hire foreign-born scientists and engineers when they can't find the homegrown talent they need. This program has strong wage protections for U.S. workers: Like other companies, Microsoft pays H-1B and U.S. employees the same high levels -- levels that exceed the government's prevailing wage.

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