K Street primed to tackle immigration

Tech and agriculture lobbyists, sensing new hopes for reform, readying for Capitol Hill fight.

, The National Law Journal

   |1 Comments

With Capitol Hill gearing up for a major overhaul to the nation's immigration system, lobbyists representing a wide range of businesses are preparing for the fight.

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What's being said

  • Kirk Hartley

    No doubt we need some immigration reform. But the need for reform on graduate students keeps leaving me wondering if what we really need is economic reform in the form of better pay. In fact, America's universities churn outs many tens of thousands of graduate students with science degrees, but they often are not employed or are under-employed. They also are highly underpaid, especially when compared to young lawyers. Consider the following excerpts from a December 16, 2010 article in the Economist, and at the same time think about the salaries of young lawyers at big law firms: http://www.economist.com/node/17723223 :

    "In research the story is similar. PhD students and contract staff known as “postdocs”, described by one student as “the ugly underbelly of academia”, do much of the research these days. There is a glut of postdocs too. Dr Freeman concluded from pre-2000 data that if American faculty jobs in the life sciences were increasing at 5% a year, just 20% of students would land one. In Canada 80% of postdocs earn $38,600 or less per year before tax—the average salary of a construction worker. The rise of the postdoc has created another obstacle on the way to an academic post. In some areas five years as a postdoc is now a prerequisite for landing a secure full-time job.

    These armies of low-paid PhD researchers and postdocs boost universities', and therefore countries', research capacity. Yet that is not always a good thing. Brilliant, well-trained minds can go to waste when fashions change. The post-Sputnik era drove the rapid growth in PhD physicists that came to an abrupt halt as the Vietnam war drained the science budget. Brian Schwartz, a professor of physics at the City University of New York, says that in the 1970s as many as 5,000 physicists had to find jobs in other areas.

    ****
    In some countries, such as Britain and America, poor pay and job prospects are reflected in the number of foreign-born PhD students. Dr Freeman estimates that in 1966 only 23% of science and engineering PhDs in America were awarded to students born outside the country. By 2006 that proportion had increased to 48%. Foreign students tend to tolerate poorer working conditions, and the supply of cheap, brilliant, foreign labour also keeps wages down.

    A PhD may offer no financial benefit over a master's degree. It can even reduce earnings
    Proponents of the PhD argue that it is worthwhile even if it does not lead to permanent academic employment. Not every student embarks on a PhD wanting a university career and many move successfully into private-sector jobs in, for instance, industrial research. That is true; but drop-out rates suggest that many students become dispirited. In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of enrolment. In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%. Worse still, whereas in other subject areas students tend to jump ship in the early years, in the humanities they cling like limpets before eventually falling off. And these students started out as the academic cream of the nation. Research at one American university found that those who finish are no cleverer than those who do not. Poor supervision, bad job prospects or lack of money cause them to run out of steam."

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