For now, the US university system is still far ahead. But over the next decade, there will be a global competition to educate the next generation
United States Universities Top China and India
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Higher education is America’s best industry says Fareed Zakaria. The reasons for the US supremacy are clear: For one it spends the most money on education, disbursing $980 billion annually, or twice as much as China and five times as much as India. It is also the most engineer-intensive country, with 981 engineering degrees per million citizens, compared with 553 for China and 197 for India. (1) In India, universities graduate between 35 and 50 Ph.D’s in computer science each year; in America, the figure is 1,000. (2)
To provide a more thorough method for analyzing this issue, Michael Silverstein and his colleagues have developed the BCG E4 Index, a rough measure of the relative global competitiveness of a country’s educational system. The four E’s are enrollment (the number of students going through the educational system); expenditure (the level of investment in education by government and private households) ; engineers (the number of qualified engineers entering the workforce, driving economic development through research and innovation); and elite institutions (the number of top global higher-education institutions). Looking at each of the four components, here’s what they report:
- Enrollment- The United States has sixty-seven million students. China and India, offering nine years of free education, have nearly a quarter of a billion students each. This represent a significant achievement. Since 1950, China has trained nearly half a billion people, including four hundred million through high school and sixty million through college. In doing so, it has improved literacy from 20 percent of the population to very close to that of the United States and above the global average of 84 percent. India has trend-line growth in literacy to match the United States in about twenty years.
- Expenditure- China spends $300 billion on public education. Next to defense, it is the biggest category of government investment. Families contribute an additional $180 billion in private expenditure. India’s government spends much less: $110 billion. Families contribute $70 billion. In the United States, with one-fourth as many students, spending totals $980 billion, or twice as much as China and five times as much as India.
- Engineers- The United States remains more engineer-intensive (see opening paragraph). Also, there is the issue of quality. Companies are skeptical of the standard graduates coming out of China’s and India’s universities. The World Economic Forum estimates that immediately ‘employable’ engineers account for 81 percent of US graduates—compared with only 10 percent of Chinese graduates and 25 percent of Indian graduates.
- Elite Institutions- In this category, China and India are far behind the United States. The US educational system, institutional capability, and faculties remain the envy of the world. It has the most elite institutions, a hundred year advantage in research and education, and an unparalleled level of investment. According to the US News & World Report, the United States holds eighty-seven of the top four hundred global university rankings. The United Kingdom has forty-six, along with the second highest ratio of engineers per million citizens. China has only eight of the top four hundred universities (not including universities in Hong Kong), and India trails with just six. (3)
Among the best foreign students, many choose to study abroad, traveling to the United States and the United Kingdom in search of world class education. According to the most recent data, US universities have 103,000 students from India and 156,000 students from China. In the United Kingdom, there are 75,000 Chinese students and 19,000 Indians. Also, according to the US National Academy of Sciences, some 52 percent of the country’s Ph.D’s under the age of forty-five are foreign-born. (3)
Many of these graduates stay in the US and the numbers are increasing. At present, Asian-Americans make up half of the Bay Area’s technology workforce, and their double-digit employment gains came from jobs lost among white tech workers. The dramatic shift in the changing composition of the high-tech workforce represents a new generation of homegrown and imported workers drilled in science, technology, engineering and math studies. (4)
China and India realize that their systems need to change. Their governments have made educational reform a core building block of their five-year plans. They realize that they need to transform their populations from day laborers into knowledge workers. They understand that there is a straightforward equation: education equals innovation, greater productivity, and higher -paying work.
For now, the US university system is still far ahead. But over the next decade, there will be a global competition to educate the next generation, and China and India have the potential to change the balance of power. With large pools of qualified students coming of age, the two countries have made reforming their universities a top priority. (1)
1. Michael J. Silverstein and Abheek Singhi, “Can US Universities Stay on Top?”, Wall Street Journal, September 29-30, 2012, Page C3
2. Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World, (New York, W. W. Norton & Co., 2008), 190
3. Michael J. Silverstein et al., The $10 Trillion Prize, (Boston, Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), 196
4. Dan Nakaso, “Asian workers now dominate Silicon Valley tech jobs,” San Jose Mercury News, November 30,2012