Regional Summary: Human Resources

Human Resources

The concept of the university as a community of scholars dedicated to the advancement and transmission of knowledge emerged in Italy, France, and England in the late Middle Ages and had spread throughout the continent by the beginning of the Modern Era. Bologna, the world's oldest university, was established during the 11th century, followed by Paris and Oxford in the 12th century. By the end of the 13th century, there were 16 universities in Europe: 7 in what is now Italy; 3 in France; and 2 each in Portugal, Spain, and England. By the end of the 15th century, which witnessed both Gutenberg's invention of moveable type and the beginnings of the voyages of discovery and exploration, there was a total of 48 European universities, including nine in what is now Germany; 1 each in Denmark, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland; and 1 each in what are now Austria and the Czech Republic (OECD, 1992; Academic American Encyclopedia, 1994).

Enrollment in Higher Education

Until recently, university education in Europe was lengthy, research oriented, and reserved for an elite group of scholars who had successfully completed a rigorous academic high school track. In the 1960s, the accelerated pace of economic development created a demand for more skilled labor, and the expansion of the middle class caused a great demand for higher education. Governments in Europe responded to these pressures by forming the so-called non-university tertiary-level institutions, such as the Instituts Universitaires de Technologie in France in 1966, polytechnics in the United Kingdom in 1969, and the Fachhochschulen in Germany in 1971 (Academia Europaea, 1992). The small number of students in secondary and higher education in these countries began to expand to alleviate the serious shortage of trained workers. Similar institutions arose throughout other Western European countries during this period, thus broadening the student base in higher education. In the past 15 years, university education in science and engineering has expanded to create an increasingly highly skilled population. Enrollment in higher education has experienced rapid growth from approximately 7 million students in 1975 to more than 11 million in 1991. (See figure 2 and appendix table 4.) Education reforms have been promoted to develop and maintain national capabilities in new high technology sectors and to upgrade technologies in other sectors for improved international competitiveness. In contrast to newly industrializing countries in Asia, where college-age populations are growing (NSF, 1993a), the college-age cohort in North America, Japan, and all industrialized countries in Europe is declining. Even in this situation, the number of science and engineering degrees is increasing. The following section will discuss recent reforms in education to accommodate the increased democratization of higher education throughout Europe. Detailed time series data have been compiled for Western Europe. Data for 1992 were compiled for some Central and Eastern European countries.

University Degrees in the Natural Sciences and Engineering

Over the 17-year period examined, the Western European countries [8] covered by this report have collectively more than doubled their annual production of first university degrees in natural sciences and engineering. (See figure 3.) The number of natural science degrees increased from approximately 56,000 in 1975 to more than 122,900 in 1992. The number of engineering degrees rose from 53,000 in 1975 to more than 116,600 in 1992. This represents about a 4.5-percent average annual rate of increase in the natural sciences, and an even higher rate of increase for engineering (5 percent). Throughout Europe, during this same time period, university degrees in non-science fields grew even faster than those in science and engineering. For all countries combined, the average annual increase in total university degrees was more than 6 percent.Trends in S&E degree production in the United States are quite different: the number of U.S. first university degrees awarded in the natural sciences and in engineering remained relatively stable from 1975 to 1983, [9] peaked in 1985ñ1986, and has since declined steadily in absolute numbers. (See figure 3 and appendix table 5.) Germany, France, and the United Kingdom account for more than 60 percent of the first university degrees awarded in natural sciences in Europe. (See figure 4.) At the doctoral level, France and Germany account for well over half of the approximately 19,000 degrees in natural sciences in the European region. (See appendix table 3.) France and Germany are the main producers of first university engineering degrees, accounting for approximately half of total engineering degrees in EU countries. (See figure 5.) The sharp increase in engineering degrees awarded in Germany in 1989 results from the unification of former West Germany with former East Germany. The higher-education systems of satellite countries of the former Soviet Union were generally focused on engineering fields. (See appendix table 1.) The sharp increase in number of natural science and engineering degrees in the United Kingdom in 1992 stems from the inclusion of colleges and polytechnics in university statistics. At the doctoral level, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom produced nearly three-quarters of the European degrees in engineering. (See appendix table 3.)

Demographic Changes

In the 1980s, the college-age population began declining in the highly industrialized countries of Western Europe, the United States, and Japan. In Western Europe, the number in this segment of the population decreased by 3 million between 1990 and 1995 and will continue to decline until 2005. Germany has had a declining 20- to 24-year-old population since 1985; Finland, since 1975. The pool of college-age students in Central European countries declined between 1975 and 1990, but the size of this age segment is slowly increasing in these countries (World Bank, 1993). (See figure 6 and appendix table 6.)

Participation Rates in Natural Science and Engineering Degrees

A declining pool of college-age students in Europe has not resulted in declining numbers of NS&E degrees, as has occurred in the United States. Participation rates in university education in general, and in NS&E degrees in particular, have grown to more than offset the declining population. Participation rates have increased in select European countries. (See figure 7 and appendix tables 7 and 8.) In Finland, more than 6 percent of the college-age cohort obtains a university degree in natural sciences or engineering, similar to the participation rates of Japan and South Korea. The large increase in participation rates in Germany in the past few years reflects the inclusion of East German universities, and their greater focus on engineering degrees. The trend data on S&E degrees for the United Kingdom do not include colleges and polytechnics until 1992, when they achieve university status. (See appendix table 5.) When NS&E degrees from these institutions are included in the 1992 data, U.K. participation rates are more than 5 percent. (See appendix tables 1 and 8.) Spain shows significant gain in awards of NS&E degrees and is now on a par with many EU countries.

Foreign Students in European Universities

Major centers of learning in Europe have historically been international; half the enrollments at the University of Paris in the 1500s were foreign students. France has traditionally hosted the largest number and percentage of foreign students among European countries (Charlot and Pottier, 1992). Today, France, Germany, [10] and the United Kingdom educate a considerable number of foreign students, representing between 5 and 7 percent of the total enrollment in higher education in these countries in 1990ñ1991 (UNESCO, 1993). From 1986 to 1991, the percentage of foreign students in higher-education enrollments in France decreased. Although the number of foreign students increased during this period, the proportion of foreign students in higher education dropped from 10 percent to 7 percent because of the dramatic increase in enrollments by French students. (See text table 3.) France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are currently receiving a greater percentage of their foreign students from EU countries. France still receives a majority of its foreign students from Africa, but also receives a high percentage of students from Germany, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and Spain. Germany receives 40 percent of its foreign students from Europe-still mainly from Eastern Europe-but a growing number are from France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has tripled its number of foreign students from the EU in the past 5 years, reaching 93,000 in 1992. More than one-third of these are mainly from Germany, Ireland, France, and Greece (Gov. of U.K., 1994c). The percentage of U.K. foreign students from the Asian Commonwealth countries has decreased to 41 percent, primarly because of the large increase in the number of students from elsewhere in Europe and possibly because of the "full fee" policy for tuition for non-EU students. (See text table 4.)

International Mobility

Most of the EU countries are preparing their scientists and engineers for international work, supporting educational exchanges, working on equivalencies of degrees, and internationalizing their curricula. As a result, a high degree of international student and teacher mobility has occurred. Part of the reason for the increasing flow of students among EU countries is the ERASMUS Program, begun by the European Community in 1987 to fund student and teacher mobility. [11] More than 300,000 students are estimated to have benefited from the ERASMUS Program's Interuniversity Cooperation with 3- to 12-month visits, from 1988 to 1994, representing approximately 7 percent of the undergraduate population in Europe. Thirty percent of ERASMUS student exchanges are in S&E fields. Funding is provided for foreign language training, accommodations, and orientation. Course credits can be transferred back to the home university. Of even greater impact on European higher education is teacher mobility funded under ERASMUS. An estimated 15,000 professors in higher education have contributed to the regular teaching program at a partner institution, or have jointly developed innovative curricula. The Human Capital and Mobility Program, launched in 1992, has funded 3,500 young researchers (post-graduate and post-doctoral level) to work in laboratories in another country. The EU budget provided around $100 million for ERASMUS in 1993, but the actual cost of implementing student and faculty exchange is far higher and relies on complementary national funding for a country's outgoing students. The United Kingdom, France, and Germany are the most popular host countries for ERASMUS and receive 50 percent of all exchanges (EC, 1994a).


[8] EU and EFTA countries.

[9] These stable years came after a rapid increase in the number of engineering degrees in an earlier period.

[10] Germany counts children of immigrants, who were born in Germany, but are non-citizens (on permanent resident visas), as foreign students. Accordingly, the foreign student count is not the actual flow of students into Germany.

[11] ERASMUS built on the experience of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Science Program founded in 1957 to promote international mobility of scientists and engineers. Over the years, approximately 50 percent of the exchanges involved trans-Atlantic cooperation. The EU created the enlarged ERASMUS effort in all fields to promote inter-European mobility.