The worldwide expansion in advanced S&E education capabilities is particularly evident in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. One indicator of this diffusion of S&E education capacity is the rapidly increasing number of students completing university degrees in S&E. (See appendix table 4-18 and NSB 1998.) Another indicator is the expansion of doctoral programs in S&E and graduate education reforms to improve the quality of research and build national innovation capacity. (See "International Comparison of Doctoral Degrees in S&E." )
In 1997, more than 2.7 million students worldwide earned a first university degree in science or engineering. (Note that the worldwide total includes only countries for which recent data are available, primarily in the Asian, European, and American regions, and is therefore an underestimation.) These 2.7 million degrees are evenly balanced among the broad S&E fields: about 900,000 students earned degrees in each of the broad fields of natural sciences, social sciences, and engineering. (See appendix table 4-18.)
From among reporting countries, more than 1 million of the 2.7 million S&E degrees were earned by Asian students within Asian universities. Students across Europe (including Eastern Europe and Russia) earned more than three-quarters of a million first university degrees in S&E. And students in the North American region earned one-half million bachelor-level degrees. These three regions, Asia, Europe, and North America, account for the large majority (88 percent) of reported S&E bachelor's degrees earned worldwide. Students in Asia and Europe earn more first university degrees in engineering than in natural sciences and generally more in natural sciences than in social sciences, whereas in North America earned degrees show the reverse. (See figure 4-12 and appendix table 4-18.)
The higher growth rate in NS&E degrees in Asia and Europe than in North America has been reported earlier (NSB 1998; NSF 1993; NSF 1996a). For example, in the past decade, the average annual growth rate in earned NS&E degrees in the Asian and European regions was more than 4 percent. In contrast, in the North American region the number of NS&E degrees declined at an average annual rate of 0.9 percent during this same time period.
Recent changes in higher education in these regions, however, are less well known. These changes include a leveling off of bachelor-level S&E degrees and a shift in emphasis to doctoral S&E training. (See figures 4-13 and 4-14.) Bachelor-level engineering degrees peaked in Asia in 1995 at 324,500 and declined slightly in 1996. Similarly, natural science degrees peaked at 191,500 in 1995 and dropped slightly in 1996. (See "International Comparison of Doctoral Degrees in S&E" and sidebar, "Graduate Reforms in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.") Bachelor's degrees will again begin to increase around 2003--04, from the large expansion of undergraduate enrollment in China in 1999 (Plafker 1999).
In addition, Asian countries are reexamining the field mix of sciences within their universities, to balance the previous concentration on physical science and engineering and meet new needs. For example, Japan would like to increase study in the biological sciences and biotechnology for the health research needs of an aging population and for bioengineering industries of the future (see Government of Japan 1998a, 1998b, 1999). Text table 4-5 shows the number of biology and engineering degrees in Japan, their percent of total degrees, and comparative data from the United States. Within Japan, bachelor's degrees earned in the biological sciences are less than 1 percent of total degrees, while engineering degrees represent more than 19 percent of degrees earned at this level. Similarly, large differences exist at the master's and doctoral level. In contrast, in the United States, biology and engineering degrees represent a similar proportion of total degrees at both the bachelor's and doctoral levels. At the bachelor's level, biology and engineering each represent about 5 percent of total U.S. degrees; at the doctoral level, 14 to 15 percent of total degrees.
Recent European developments include a continually broadening access to higher education, more mobility for students and faculty among the countries of the European Union, and graduate education reform. European countries are introducing and expanding their short-cycle, three- to four-year undergraduate programs, alongside their traditional universities that require six to seven years for completion of the first university degree (equivalent to a master's). For example, Germany has increased the shorter cycle, four-year undergraduate institutions, called Fachhochschulen, and revised first university degree programs to shift more of the research training to the doctoral level (NSF 2000).
How does the U.S. educational system compare with other countries in its emphasis on S&E in undergraduate programs? One indicator of focus on science and engineering is the proportion of degrees earned in S&E and non-S&E fields. Considering total degrees across all regions, the 2.7 million S&E degrees represent 42 percent of all first university degrees. (See appendix table 4-20.) However, some countries emphasize S&E fields in higher education more than others do. In several large countriesJapan, Russia, and Brazilstudents earn more than 60 percent of their first university degrees in S&E fields, and in China, 72 percent do. In contrast, in the United States, students earn their degrees in a wide range of S&E and non-S&E fields: U.S. students earn about one-third of their bachelor-level degrees in S&E fields, mainly in the social sciences. (See appendix table 4-20.)
Of the first university degrees across all regions, approximately 14 percent are earned in each of the broad fields of natural sciences, social sciences, and engineering. There are strong differences in field emphases across countries, however. Engineering represents 46 percent of the earned bachelor's degrees in China, about 30 percent in Sweden and Russia, and about 20 percent in Japan and South Korea. In contrast, students in the United States earn only 5 percent of bachelor-level degrees in engineering fields. Countries with high concentration of university degrees in the natural sciences include Ireland (34 percent), France and India (20 percent), and the United Kingdom (18 percent). (See appendix table 4-20.)
The concern raised by the Steelman report regarding the need to prepare a sufficient number of students for advanced graduate education and research in science not only has remained of national interest but has broadened. The issue has been broadened from ensuring adequate numbers of students willing and able to enter graduate S&E programs to preparing all citizens for life and employment in a high-technology economy. A high ratio of the college-age population earning university degrees correlates with better public understanding of science, and a high proportion of the college-age population earning an NS&E degree is an indicator of the technical skill level of those entering the workforce.
The ratio of U.S. bachelor's degrees to the college-age cohort is relatively high: 32 per hundred. Only a handful of countries (the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) have higher ratios. However, the ratio of NS&E degrees to the college-age population in more than a dozen Asian and European countries is higher than in the United States. South Korea and Taiwan dramatically increased their ratio of NS&E degrees to their 24-year-olds, from 2 per hundred in 1975 to 7 per hundred in 1997 in Taiwan and 9 per hundred in South Korea. Japan has maintained a high ratio of NS&E degrees to its 24-year-old population since the 1970s, with a slight decline in the late 1980s. The higher ratios after 1995 reflect an increasing number of NS&E degrees and the declining college-age population in Japan. Their college-age cohort will continue to decline until 2010. (See appendix table 4-18 for 1997 data and NSF 1993 for trend data on Asian countries, and appendix table 4-7 for the trends on declining college-age cohorts of major industrialized countries.)
Asia's two giants, India and China, have low participation rates in NS&E degrees. India, with its huge, growing population, is maintaining its participation rate of 1 per hundred. China, with an even larger population, has doubled its participation rate in the past decade, from 0.4 per hundred in 1985 to 0.9 per hundred in 1996. (See NSF 1993 for trend data, figure 4-15 and appendix table 4-18.)
A declining pool of college-age students in Europe has not resulted in declining numbers of NS&E degrees as in the United States. The size of the college-age cohort in Europe has declined 21 percent, from 29.7 million in 1985 to 23.5 million in the year 2000. (See appendix table 4-7.) Among European countries, participation rates in NS&E degrees have grown to more than offset the declining population, most notably in Germany and the United Kingdom. For example, the ratio of NS&E degrees to the German college-age cohort has increased from 3 per hundred to more than 8 per hundred in the past 20 years. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, the ratio increased from 3 to more than 9 per hundred in this same time period. (See NSF 1996a and appendix table 4-18.)
In contrast, overall participation rates have remained relatively constant in the United States; the ratio of NS&E degrees to the college-age population has remained between 4 and 5 per hundred for the past three decades. That is, students do not show less interest or achievement in earning natural science or engineering degrees; neither do they show more. Demographics have changed significantly, however. As discussed in "Demographics and U.S. Higher Education," the U.S. college-age population decreased by 21 percent from 1980 to 2000. (After this 20-year decline, the U.S. college-age cohort will begin to increase in 2001.) The effect of this demographic trend is partially offset by increasing participation rates for women and underrepresented minorities. Although the decreasing size of the college-age cohort resulted in a downturn in the number of degrees in several NS&E fields, fields in which women are very highly represented (biological sciences and psychology) have produced increasing numbers of degrees in the 1990s. (See appendix table 4-17.)