In the US, the debates we have about education deal with whether we should teach the Bible in public schools and downplaying evolution in favor of the pseudo-science intelligent design. Sprinkle this with the reduction in overall funding for basic research in all sciences, mix in the difficulty foreign students have in getting visas to study here, and stir in the general American disinterest in anything remotely intellectual, and you have a recipe for long-term disaster.
If America doesn't get its act together soon, I wouldn't be surprised if China or India takes the lead within a few decades. It reminds me of the Xerox PARC "Fumbling the Future" stories, except on a national level.
Several years ago, Chinese car manufacturer Geely grew concerned about a shortage of well-trained workers. Its solution: plunk down $800 million and start a private university.
Since 1998, when Jiang Zemin, then president of China, spoke on the 100th anniversary of top-ranked Peking University and issued his bracing call for change, overall college enrollment in China has roughly tripled. The country now outpaces leaders like the US, India, Russia, and Japan in numbers of students in colleges and universities.
China almost doubled the number of science and engineering PhDs between 1996 and 2001, to just over 8,000. Some observers say that within a decade, China is likely to boast some of the world's leading engineering schools.