VISA DELAYS FOR INTERNATIONAL SCIENTISTS AND STUDENTS MAY SHORTEN
Since September 11th, regulatory changes have been made to the procedures for granting visas to individuals wishing to travel to the United States, including students and scholars. The new screening procedures were put in place as part of the effort to prevent terrorists from entering the United States. Elements of the new screening protocol include more thorough background checks, comparing applicant profiles to databases of known or suspected criminals and terrorists, and in most cases requiring in-person interviews at U.S. consulates. As a result, it is taking longer for visiting professors, scholars and students to receive their travel visas, in some cases several weeks to a few months.
Scientists, science-meeting planners, higher education officials, student groups, and their association representatives have expressed their concerns about the delays in the new visa process to government officials at the State Department and before a House Science Committee hearing on the issue. Of particular concern to higher education officials is the potential that students and visiting professors will not able to be on campus in time for the start of the fall semester. Leaders of scientific societies have heard from a growing number of members that the delays are negatively impacting collaborative research projects and reducing the number of international scientists willing or able to attend scientific meetings in the United States. Possibly in response to this pressure, State Department officials expressed a commitment to expedite and improve the visa process. On July 3rd, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, "the U.S. State Department has told its overseas consular offices to schedule students, professors, and researchers first in interviews that are part of antiterrorism screenings of nearly all visa applicants." The memo from the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for visa services, Janice L. Jacobs, gives priority to students and exchange visitors in the "professor, student, and research-scholar categories."
The State Department has also been working with the International Visitors Office of the National Academies of Science to ensure that scientists, professional societies and science-meeting planners have access to useful information about the visa process. For its part, the NAS International Visitors Office has established a web-resource (http://www7.nationalacademies.org/visas/) that includes information and internet links to federal agencies involved in the visa process.
COMMISSION ON PROFESSIONALS IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY LAUNCHES ONLINE CLEARINGHOUSE FOR DATA ON MASTER'S EDUCATION IN SCIENCE
On July 1, 2003 the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST)-a nonprofit corporation whose membership includes professional societies, corporations, institutions and individuals concerned with advancing the public's understanding of professionals in science and technology, their roles, education, and employment-announced the launch of an online clearinghouse containing data and information about master's education in the sciences. The website, http://sciencemasters.cpst.org, includes articles, tables and data pertaining to science master's education and the master's workforce, as well as a searchable catalog of master's programs.
According to CPST, the clearinghouse includes over 120 data tables in all fields of science, mathematics and engineering. Data tables cover degrees, enrollments, top producing institutions, sources of support for master's students, and the master's workforce, with breakouts by gender, race/ethnicity, citizenship, and field and subfield. Other data tables, graphs and figures, including tables on salaries of master's recipients, will be added to the clearinghouse as new data and information become available. The clearinghouse also provides a directory of 464 science master's programs offered by 215 U.S. colleges and universities, searchable by discipline, state and university, as well as recent articles on master's education.
The clearinghouse was funded as part of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant to CPST to conduct activities designed to promote the revitalization of the master's degree in the sciences and mathematics. Notably, the Sloan Foundation has supported the establishment of Professional Science Masters programs, which are "designed for students interested in a variety of career options than are provided by current graduate programs in the sciences and mathematics."
NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD SELECTS MARINE BIOLOGIST AS NEW EXECUTIVE OFFICER
The National Science Board, the governing board of the National Science Foundation, has selected Michael P. Crosby to replace Gerald Glaser as their new Executive Officer. Glaser has held the position of Acting Executive Officer since July 2002. Crosby, a marine biologist, was previously senior advisor for international science policy at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he has also served as Executive Director for the NOAA Science Advisory Board. Crosby brings more than 20 years of research, teaching, science management and leadership experience to the position and, according to the NSB, has played an active role in leading multidisciplinary research programs and in developing national policy.
Crosby received his Ph.D. in marine-estuarine-environmental sciences from the University of Maryland and a Master of Science in biology from Old Dominion University, and has held faculty positions at the University of South Carolina, Coastal Carolina University, the University of Charleston and Salisbury State University.
ROYAL SOCIETY CRITICAL OF UK PLANS FOR SYSTEMATIC BIOLOGY
The fight for financial resources to support systematic biology and natural science collections is not unique to the United States. In the United Kingdom, the House of Lords recently released a report on systematic biology and biodiversity. The report, "What on Earth?", recognized the need to protect biological diversity and the importance of having experts on biological diversity contribute to conservation and sustainable development initiatives. The report notes that while the UK government has signed treaties to conserve biological diversity, "grant-in-aid from successive UK governments to the major systematic biology institutions has declined in real terms." The House of Lords report contends that this decline in support has led to a decrease in research that supports biodiversity conservation and has placed the reference specimens housed at these institutions at considerable risk. The House of Lords select committee on science and technology, which authored the report, recommended increased financial support to the major systematics institutions in order to protect the collections of biodiversity housed there and to recognize the increase in work load which has resulted from the UK's obligations under international treaties; a request also being made by systematists and natural science collection officials in the United States. Additionally, the report called for greater collaboration and priority setting for systematic biology activities.
In its response to the "What on Earth?" report, the UK government acknowledged that natural science collections such as the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the Natural History Museum are important and would receive increased funding, but the request for an inflation adjusted increase that would put systematic biology at its 1992 funding level (inflation adjusted) was not practical.
Commenting on the government's response to the report, the Royal Society noted, "We are generally disappointed with the Government's response to the HoL's report. In particular, recent funding increases neither repairs the damage done to the field by the previous 10 years of under funding nor ensures the long-term stability that would prevent further decline." The Royal Society further expressed a concern about the impacts the Research Assessment Exercise is having on systematic biology at universities and recommended that a current review of the Assessment utilize quantitative data when considering minority subjects such as systematics.
For more information on the report and the Royal Society response, visit www.royalsoc.ac.uk/policy/.
SURVEY OF GOVERNOR'S SHOW BLEAK FINANCIAL PICTURE FOR STATE SPENDING
The National Governor's Association (NGA) and the National Association of State Budget Officials (NASBO) have released new data on the fiscal status of the states. The latest survey, which was conducted between January and June 2003, indicates that the fiscal environment for most states remains negative. Revenue collection from sales taxes, and personal and corporate income taxes continued to drop, while expenditures for state health care programs such as Medicaid continued to rise. Some states are also increasing the amount of money provided to cash-assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. These actions are likely in response to a still lagging national economy plagued by increasing unemployment. Thus, continued state budget pressure on spending for programs such as higher education should be expected as states struggle to meet financial obligations in the coming budget cycle.
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