College-Age Population Trends
The size of the college-age cohort of individuals 18–23 years old is an indication of the potential pool of candidates to obtain a higher education. Potential college students, even older ones, are increasingly important in a knowledge-based economy.
- Asia's college-age cohort is far larger than those of the EU and the United States. To illustrate: the combined total of only three Asian countries—China, India, and Japan—is projected to be five times as large as the combined EU and U.S. total from 2000 to 2020 (figure 1; table 1).
- China's One Child policy and various political upheavals produced a college-age cohort that oscillated enormously over two decades, swinging from 110 million in 1980 to 155 million in 1990 and then back to 116 million by 2000. After rebounding to 137 million in 2010, it is projected to decline further to 109 million in 2020.
- Meanwhile, India's college-age cohort grew continuously from 78 million in 1980 toward a projected 139 million in 2020.
- Japan's college-age cohort is expected to decline from just under 12 million in 1995 to just over a projected 7 million in 2020.
- The college-age cohort in the EU decreased from about 16 million in 1980 to 13 million in 2000 and is projected to be basically flat through 2020.
- The U.S. college-age population has trended slightly upward since 1995 after declining from 26 million in 1980 to a low of 22 million.
Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file
Table 1 Source Data: Excel file
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Higher Education Degree Ratios
The ratio of higher education degrees earned to the size of the college-age population is a measure of the breadth of successful participation in postsecondary education, which in turn reflects government policies toward higher education availability and access. Over the past decades, the ratio of first university degrees to the college-age population (degree ratio) has increased in many locations.
- In Asia, the degree ratio rose from about 3.8 per hundred in 1990 to 8.7 per 100 in 2002—a large increase in a short period, but the absolute level remains low (figure 2).
- Over the same period, the EU ratio rose from 11.1 per 100 to 30.7 per 100, bringing it nearly to the level of the United States. The U.S. degree ratio, for decades the highest in the world, rose modestly from 30.9 per 100 in 1990 to 33.9 per 100 in 2002.
- Japan has a large higher education system and a declining population. It increased its degree ratio from 22.4 per 100 to 32.0 per 100 from 1990 to 2004, a degree ratio similar to the EU and the United States (figure 3).
- China's degree ratio stood at 1.2 per 100 in 1990 but jumped to 5.0 per 100 by 2003, on a par with India's 1990 level of 4.8 per 100 in 1990 (no comparable data have been available for India since 1990). Figure 3 also shows the heavy influence of China's numbers on the Asian average.
- In South Korea and especially in Taiwan, degree ratios rose steeply over the decade, equaling or surpassing the ratios of some major industrial nations and attesting to the emphasis in both countries on the importance of higher education for the workforces.
Figure 2 Source Data: Excel file
Figure 3 Source Data: Excel file
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S&E Bachelor's Degrees
An S&E bachelor's degree represents achievement in a science or engineering field that allows junior professional-level entry into the S&E workforce or progression toward advanced S&E training. Only very broad estimates of bachelor's degrees conferred are possible, especially for Asia, because of data gaps and likely inconsistencies of classification.
- The number of S&E bachelor's degrees rose significantly in the 1990s in Asia (calculated without 1990 and 2002 data for India and the Philippines), with China's output doubling from 1990 to 2002 and increases elsewhere ranging from 40% to over 200% (table 2).
- EU production of new S&E bachelor's degree holders rose similarly, nearly 80%. U.S. production increased by 26% from 1990 to 2002 (38% from 1990 to 2004).
- Especially stark differences were apparent in the production of engineering baccalaureates. Although Asian and EU engineering bachelor's degrees more than doubled, 5 U.S. engineering degrees declined 6%.
- Engineering bachelor's degree output in Asia was nearly double that in the EU and the United States combined in 1990, and Asia is pulling farther ahead.
Table 2 Source Data: Excel file
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S&E Doctoral Degrees
Doctoral degree conferrals signify achievement at a high level of training and indicate the availability of human capital with the capacity to generate original knowledge and innovations through advanced research.
- After increasing the number of new S&E doctorates during the 1990s, Asia produced almost as many S&E doctorates in 2001 (24,900) as the United States in 2001 to 2003 (26,000–27,000) but fewer than the EU (40,000–42,000 annually for 2001 to 2003) (figure 4).
- However, Asia produced more doctoral degrees in engineering in 2001 (11,200) than all of its doctoral S&E output in 1989 (10,000). This was similar to the 2001 EU total (10,300) and was double that year's U.S. total of 5,500.
- In 2001, China, expanding from a base of about 1,000 in 1989, conferred more than 8,000 S&E doctoral degrees, compared with 7,400 in Japan and an estimated 5,400 in India—the two closest Asian runners-up (figure 5). By 2003, China graduated 12,200 new S&E doctorates (table 3).
- Among Asian S&E doctoral degree recipients in 2001, those with engineering doctorates constituted about 45% of the total, compared with 26% for the EU and about 20% in the United States (figure 4; table 3).
- Asian universities award relatively small numbers of doctorates in the social and behavioral sciences: about 7% of all S&E doctorates in 2002, compared with 18% for the EU and 27% for the United States.
Figure 4 Source Data: Excel file
Figure 5 Source Data: Excel file
Table 3 Source Data: Excel file
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Asian and EU Recipients of U.S. S&E Doctorates
Foreign participation in U.S. S&E doctoral education is an indicator of global flows of personnel and knowledge. The United States benefits from well-prepared and motivated foreign graduate students, the students benefit from advanced training, and countries of origin have the potential to benefit from the skills these students have acquired.
- From 1989 to 2003, foreign students earned nearly 40% of U.S. S&E doctorates, with Asian students representing about 55% of this group. Students from EU countries have totaled about 10% of all foreign doctorate recipients in the United States (figure 6).
- The largest Asian sources were China with about 34,000 S&E doctorates from 1989 to 2003, Taiwan with 14,800, and South Korea and India with about 14,500 each. These four sources accounted for nearly 90% of all Asian recipients of U.S. S&E doctorates.
- The total number of U.S. S&E doctorates earned by Asian students rose through the mid-1990s and then reached a plateau or declined. (The numbers decreased for China, Taiwan, and India.) The number of EU students earning U.S. doctorates remained fairly steady, at around 1,000 per year (figure 7).
- Stay rates after degree conferral (the proportion of new foreign S&E doctorate holders planning to remain in the United States immediately upon degree conferral) have been rising for students from most Asian countries and the EU. For students from China and India, the stay rate has been 80% and higher since 1992. For all major Asian sources and the EU, over half of U.S. doctorate recipients stay in the United States (figure 8).
- Asian recipients of U.S. S&E doctorates are far more likely than EU students to earn an engineering doctorate: 35%–38% compared with 17%–21% of EU students. (The U.S. average is 13%–15%.)
Figure 6 Source Data: Excel file
Figure 7 Source Data: Excel file
Figure 8 Source Data: Excel file
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 All comparisons in this section are approximate. The 1990 ratio is based on the size of the cohort of individuals 22 years old; the 2002 ratio is based on individuals 24 years old, because directly comparable data are not readily available. Data are for most recent year; latest available data for China are for 2003, for Japan for 2004. Sources are Science & Engineering Indicators 1993, appendix table 2-1, and Science & Engineering Indicators 2006, appendix table 2-37.
 Degree data for Asia are from various years; the calculation omits India and Philippines, for which only 1990 data are available.
 Asia here includes China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
 Includes 9,600 doctoral S&E degrees conferred to foreign students on permanent and temporary visas.