Global Trends in Higher Education in S&E
- Educational Attainment
- First University Degrees in S&E Fields
- Global Comparison of Participation Rates by Sex
- Global Comparison of S&E Doctoral Degrees
- Global Student Mobility
In the 1990s, many countries worldwide expanded their higher education systems as well as access to higher education in their country. At the same time, flows of students worldwide increased, particularly from developing countries to more developed countries, and from Europe and Asia to the United States. More recently, a number of countries adopted policies to encourage the return of students who studied abroad, to attract foreign students, or both.
Educational attainment of the U.S. population has long been among the highest in the world, but other countries are now catching up (OECD 2006). The United States continues to have the highest percentage of the population ages 25–64 with a bachelor’s degree or higher, although among the younger age group (ages 25–34), the United States (30%) lags behind Norway (37%), Israel (34%), the Netherlands (32%), and South Korea (31%) in the percentage of the population with at least a bachelor’s degree
The percentage of the population with postsecondary degrees of any sort increased greatly in Europe and in many Asian countries over the past decade. Many other countries, including Russia, Israel, Belgium, Canada, Finland, and Sweden have traditionally had relatively high percentages of the population with education levels broadly comparable to U.S. associate’s degrees (tertiary type B in international classification). Recently, increases in population shares with this level of education have occurred in France, Ireland, Japan, and South Korea, among other countries; these increases are often accompanied by increases in those with bachelor’s level qualifications (tertiary type A) or better. In total postsecondary education attainment of the population ages 25 to 64 (including 2-year and 4-year or higher degrees), the United States ranks 4th (behind Russia, Israel, and Canada), and it ranks 10th (behind Russia, Canada, Japan, Israel, South Korea, Sweden, Belgium, Ireland, and Norway) in the percentage of the younger population (ages 25–34) with any postsecondary degree
First University Degrees in S&E Fields
In 2004, almost 11 million students worldwide earned a first university degree with almost 4 million of these in S&E fields
In the United States, S&E degrees are about one-third of U.S. bachelor’s degrees. In several countries/economies around the world, the proportion of first degrees in S&E fields, especially engineering, is higher. More than half of first degrees were in S&E fields in Japan (63%), China (56%), Singapore (59%), Laos (57%), and Thailand (69%). Many of these countries/economies traditionally awarded a large proportion of their first degrees in engineering. In the United States, about 5% of all bachelor’s degrees are in engineering. However, in Asia, 20% are in engineering, and in many other countries worldwide, more than 10% are in engineering. About 12% of all bachelor’s degrees in the United States and worldwide are in natural sciences (physical, biological, computer, and agricultural sciences, and mathematics).
The number of first university S&E degrees awarded in China, South Korea, and the United Kingdom more than doubled between 1985 and 2005; those in the United States generally increased; and those in Japan decreased in recent years
Global Comparison of Participation Rates by Sex
Women earned half or more of first university degrees in S&E in many countries around the world in 2004, including the United States, Canada, Greece, Portugal, Panama, and several countries in Asia, the middle East, and Eastern Europe. A number of countries in Europe are not far behind, with more than 40% of first university S&E degrees earned by women. In many Asian and African countries, women generally earn about one-third or less of the first university degrees awarded in S&E fields
Global Comparison of S&E Doctoral Degrees
Almost 150,000 S&E doctoral degrees were earned worldwide in 2004. Of these, more than 80% were earned outside the United States
Women earned 37% of S&E doctoral degrees awarded in the United States and about 34% of those earned worldwide in 2004. The percentage of S&E doctoral degrees earned by women varied widely by country/economy, from less than 20% in South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Iran, and Ghana, to more than 50% in Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Uganda, Portugal, Latvia, and Lithuania
The number of S&E doctoral degrees awarded in the United Kingdom and in many Asian countries rose steeply in the past two decades
In Asia, China was the largest producer of S&E doctoral degrees (almost 15,000). The number of S&E doctorates awarded in China rose more than sixfold between 1993 and 2004, and the number of S&E doctorates awarded in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan also greatly increased. In China, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, more than half of S&E doctorates were awarded in engineering. In India, the number of S&E doctoral degrees rose more modestly, although there was still a 58% increase from 1985 through 2003, and most doctorates were awarded in the physical and biological sciences
Global Student Mobility
International migration of students and highly skilled workers expanded in the past two decades, and countries are increasingly competing for foreign students. In particular, migration of students occurred from developing countries to the more developed countries, and from Europe and Asia to the United States. Some migrate temporarily for education, whereas others remain permanently. Some of the factors that influence the decision to migrate are economic opportunities, research opportunities, research funding, and climate for innovation in the country of destination (OECD 2004).
The population of individuals ages 20–24 (a proxy for the college-age population) decreased in Europe, the United States, China, and Japan in the 1990s and is projected to continue decreasing in Europe and Japan
The U.S. share of foreign students worldwide declined in recent years, although the United States remains the destination of the largest number of foreign students worldwide (both undergraduate and graduate) of all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries
Foreign student enrollment in the United Kingdom increased in the past decade. The proportion of foreign students studying S&E fields in the United Kingdom also increased, especially at the graduate level, with increasing flows of students from China and India. From 1994 to 2005, foreign students increased from 29% to 43% of all graduate students studying S&E in the United Kingdom. In graduate engineering, foreign student enrollment more than doubled from 9,300 (35% of enrollment) to 21,400 (55% of enrollment)
About 100,000 foreign students studied in Japanese universities in 2005, almost 60,000 of them in S&E fields. Foreign S&E student enrollment in Japan is concentrated at the undergraduate level, accounting for 69% of all foreign S&E students. Foreign undergraduates, however, represent only 3% of all undergraduate S&E students. Although smaller in number, foreign graduate students account for 13% of graduate S&E students in Japan. About 18,000 foreign S&E graduate students were enrolled in Japanese universities in 2005, more than half of them from China
Foreign students are an increasing share of enrollment in Canadian universities. Foreign S&E students accounted for about 7% of undergraduate and 23% of graduate S&E enrollment in Canada in 2004, up from 5% and 22% in 1994. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, foreign S&E students are higher percentages of students in mathematics/computer sciences and engineering than they are in other fields. Asian countries/economies were the top places of origin of foreign S&E graduate and undergraduate students in Canada. China alone accounts for 19% of foreign S&E graduate students and 15% of foreign S&E undergraduate students in Canada. The United States is also among the top countries of origin of foreign students, accounting for 5% of foreign S&E graduate students and 10% of foreign S&E undergraduate students in Canada
Australia actively recruited foreign students in recent years. Foreign students accounted for 15% of S&E undergraduate and 32% of S&E graduate students in Australian universities in 2005
International Comparison of Foreign Doctoral Degree Recipients
As in the United States, foreign students are a large share of S&E doctoral degree recipients in the United Kingdom. In 2005, 42% of S&E doctorates from the United Kingdom and 41% of S&E doctorates from U.S. universities were awarded to foreign students (both permanent and temporary visa holders). In both countries, foreign students accounted for more than 60% of the doctorates awarded in engineering. Foreign students account for about 10% of S&E doctorate recipients in Japan and 25% in Germany
 A first university degree refers to the completion of a terminal undergraduate degree program. These degrees are classified as level 5A in the International Standard Classification of Education, although individual countries use different names for the first terminal degree (e.g., laureata in Italy, diplome in Germany, maitrise in France, and bachelor's degree in the United States and in Asian countries).
 Excluding doctorates in medical/health fields.