The global race for STEM skills


China has almost twice as many STEM graduates as UK, with India also further ahead than UK.  USA trails behind.
STEM graduates as % of all degrees (2011):


STEM degrees as % of all degrees in 2011

(Source: Accenture Institute for High Performance)

Higher education is often seen as an export industry in the developed world, but the economic crisis has exposed once again its role as a driver for economic growth. Investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines is increasingly seen in the US and Europe as a means to boost innovation, particularly in manufacturing, the sector which helped Asian economies grow exponentially over the last two decades. A debate on the importance of science education is brewing on both sides of the Atlantic but gets particularly heated when it intersects with immigration.

China on the rise

China plans a long-term funding programme for science and technology that aims to kick-start knowledge-based sectors to supplement its thriving manufacturing sector*.

This policy is driven by a broader shift in economic policy. Soon after the global economic crisis emerged in 2008, Chinese leaders decided to restructure the economy from an export-oriented model to a domestically-driven one, a shift that requires diversification of the economy and investment in innovation.

During the 11th five-year guideline (2006-10), investments from the Ministry of Science and Technology totalled 200bn yuan ($32bn). According to Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China’s R&D investment stood at 861bn yuan ($138bn) in 2011, making China the second biggest R&D investor in the world. Chunli estimated that by 2020 China’s investment in science and technology will account for 2.5% of the country’s GDP, exceeding 2 trillion yuan.

The results are already visible. As shown by the graphic below, a staggering 41% of all degrees awarded by Chinese institutions in 2011 were in a STEM subject, almost twice the proportion of STEM degrees awarded in the UK and three times the rate in the US.

China now stands behind only the United States in the number of science and technology journals published annually, and is expected to overtake the US in scientific output within few years, according to a recent study by the Royal Society, the UK’s science academy. The study notes however that China still lags behind most developed countries in terms of job-creating quality research.

 Further Reading:

Engineering UK: The skills ‘threat’ from China and India – Fact or fiction Report of key findings’threat’%20from%20China%20and%20India%20-%20Fact%20or%20fiction.pdf