Chapter 2:

Higher Education in Science and Engineering

Worldwide Increase in S&E Educational Capabilities

In each country, a number of factors drive student participation in science and engineering. Among these are demographics (the number of college-age students), organizational aspects of the university system (how open-accessible-the system is), how the secondary education system dovetails into higher education, as well as the incentives for studying and staying in S&E as opposed to entering directly into the workforce. These factors combine in different ways in each country to influence the number of S&E students.

First University Degrees[2]  top

From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, the number of first university degrees in science and engineering increased rapidly in Asia and Europe and slowly in North America. In this period, first university degrees in S&E grew at an average annual rate of 4.8 percent among 16 European countries, at 4.1 percent among 6 Asian countries, and at 1.3 percent among North American countries.[3] When considering only NS&E degrees, the North American degrees declined at an average annual rate of just under 1 percent (NSF 1993 and NSF 1996a), while the European and Asian degrees increased over 4 percent.

In 1995, more than 2.1 million students in these three regions earned a first university degree in science or engineering, up from 1.6 million in 1992.[4]  (See "Degree Data Available for Asia, Europe, and North America.") These 2.1 million degrees were evenly divided among the major fields: approximately 765,000 were earned in the natural sciences, 643,000 in the social sciences, and 739,000 in engineering. (See text table 2-1.)  [Skip Text Box]

Degree Data Available for Asia, Europe,and North America top

Data availability differs among the countries of these three regions. Trend data on degrees earned in broad S&E fields have been developed for 6 Asian economies-China, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan; 16 Western European countries-Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom; and 3 North American countries-Canada, Mexico, and the United States. (See NSF 1993 and NSF 1996a.) Recent degree data covering one year only (1993 or 1994), for selected Central and Eastern European countries and Russia, were obtained from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (1996). In addition, more of Asia's developing countries-including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand-have begun collecting and reporting their national education statistics to UNESCO's annual survey, providing a more complete picture of the Asian region.

By 1995, within the Asian region, the number of first university degrees in the natural sciences rose to over 300,000-almost as many as the number of such degrees earned in the European region, and about twice the number earned in the North American region. Within engineering, selected Asian countries produced over 343,000 degrees, 21 percent higher than the number of such degrees in Europe (including Russia), and more than three times the number earned in the North American region. (See figure 2-1, text table 2-1, and appendix table 2-1.)

Asia top

Trend data from selected Asian countries show that for China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, the number of first university degrees in science and engineering fields increased greatly. Between 1975 and 1995, the total number of degrees in the natural sciences earned by students from these countries nearly doubled, while those in engineering more than tripled. (See NSF 1993 and appendix table 2-2.) In the last decade, the average annual growth rate in earned NS&E degrees in Asia was 4.2 percent. In contrast, in the North American region, the number of NS&E degrees declined at an average annual rate of 0.9 percent from 1986 to 1994. (See "Undergraduate S&E Students and Degrees in the United States" for further information on U.S. degree trends.)

The biggest increase in NS&E degrees in the Asian region came as a result of China reopening its universities and expanding its institutions of higher education in the 1980s. (See "Growth in Institutions of Higher Education in Asia.") From 1985 to 1995, earned degrees in the natural sciences rose from 28,000 to over 54,000; engineering degrees rose from 73,000 to almost 150,000. China has a strong commitment to higher education in the natural sciences (stressing the applied side of chemistry, physics, and biology); in 1995 it produced more than twice as many bachelor's degrees in these fields as did Japan. (See appendix table 2-2.)  [Skip Text Box]

Growth in Institutions of Higher Education in Asia top

The expansion of higher education institutions in Asia, particularly for graduate programs, has been financed by government (Japan), by industry (South Korea), and through international loans (China).

Japan. Japan greatly expanded its institutions of higher education in the 1950s. By 1955, there were over 100 public institutions, including both local and national universities. The number of public institutions has not significantly increased since then. In all, 25 national universities and 15 local universities have been opened in the last 40 years. In contrast, the number of private institutions has increased rapidly in the last few decades, reaching over 400 in 1995, and accounting for around 75 percent of all higher education institutions (Monbusho 1995). National universities, however, dominate in the production of doctoral degrees, accounting for 85 percent of NS&E degrees (Monbusho 1995).

About 30 of Japan's national universities are considered research universities. In the 1970s, the government Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture began building national inter-university research institutes open to all university researchers. These provide large-scale, well-equipped research facilities that can be used for international collaboration in specific fields. The first of these inter-university research institutes was the National Laboratory for Higher Energy Physics. These institutes, now numbering 15, have the same status as national universities (Monbusho 1995).

The main science funding agencies in Japan have sharply increased the amount of competitive research funding to universities to improve research facilities and personnel. About a half-dozen research institutes have received large five-year infusions of funds to enable them to become centers of excellence in specialized fields-e.g., brain research, material science, and econometrics (NSF 1997c).

South Korea. The most prestigious institutes of higher education in South Korea are those few national universities that survived the 1905-45 Japanese occupation. However, a substantial network of new higher educational institutions was created after the Korean War, consisting of 134 colleges and universities, and 152 junior colleges. The latter play a key role in the education of scientists and engineers. In fact, much of the recent rise in postsecondary educational attainment is seen at the junior college level, where enrollment nearly doubled between 1990 and 1996 (Government of the Republic of Korea 1996).

South Korea has also expanded graduate S&E programs. In the 1980s, the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology was established to increase support for postgraduate training within South Korea. More recently, Pohang University of Science and Technology was established by the industrial giant, Pohang Iron and Steel Corporation, much as institutions such as Stanford and Carnegie-Mellon were founded by early U.S. industrialists.

China. In the 1980s, the extensive infrastructure for graduate training in China was strengthened, after having been greatly disrupted during the late 1950s and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. China's policy of modernization through science and technology resulted in a massive investment in higher education institutions, particularly to increase enrollments in S&E at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The expansion and upgrading of such institutions were partially financed by a series of international loans from the World Bank; from 1981 to 1991, these loans totaled $1.2 billion. (See text table 2-2.)

China specifically requested international development assistance loans for higher education as part of its economic plan to bolster its high-technology manufacturing sectors. The loans improved research instrumentation and computing facilities, allowed both senior scholars and younger students to study abroad, and provided for several hundred international advisors to assess departments and advise on curricular reform (Hayhoe 1989).

Part of China's strategy was to improve the quality of teaching and research in higher education by sending selected students to study in foreign universities, especially in NS&E fields. At first, most students and research scholars were government supported and returned to China after their studies. Between 1979 and 1988, approximately 19,500 Chinese scholars and graduate students who had studied in the United States returned to China; they subsequently became an important component of China's science and technology resources (Orleans 1988). Currently, only a small fraction of Chinese foreign students are government supported, and return rates to China are low. (See "Stay Rates of Foreign Doctoral Recipients in the United States" later in this chapter.)

There are more than 1,000 higher education institutes in China. Seventy of them provide four-year university programs; 43 are comprehensive universities. In 1988, about 86 of China's higher education institutions were singled out as centers of excellence for priority funding (NSF 1993.)

China has the largest number of NS&E first university degree recipients at 203,238, followed by India at 176,036, and Japan at 127,971. However, with the large populations of China and India, the number of earned degrees represents a relatively small proportion of the college-age cohort. (See "Increasing Participation Rates in NS&E Degrees" later in this chapter and appendix table 2-1.)

China's rapid expansion of S&E degrees is partly explained by demography (its 20- to 24-year-old population equals 100 million) and partly by a national policy to extend higher education-particularly in science and engineering-in support of national economic development.

Europe top

The increase in the number of S&E degrees awarded by higher education institutions in European countries is also noteworthy. (See "Growth in Institutions of Higher Education in Europe.") From 1975 to 1995, the Western European countries[5]  collectively more than doubled their annual production of first university degrees in S&E. The number of natural science degrees increased from approximately 56,000 in 1975 to more than 150,000 in 1995. The number of social science degrees increased from approximately 50,000 in 1975 to over 80,000 in 1995. And the number of engineering degrees rose from 51,000 in 1975 to more than 137,000 in 1995. (See NSF 1996a and appendix table 2-1.) [Skip Text Box]

Growth in Institutions of Higher Education in Europe top

In the 1960s, the accelerated pace of European 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 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 Europea 1992). The small number of students in secondary and higher education in these countries began to expand. Similar institutions arose throughout other Western European countries during this period, thus broadening the student base in higher education. The largest numbers of institutions are found in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.

Germany. German higher education takes place at 251 institutions, among them 125 Fachhochschulen and 70 universities, including 6 private universities. Only university graduates may continue their studies through doctoral programs. The university degree in Germany requires a minimum of 4 years of study; the average length of undergraduate study is 6.5 years. This lengthy first university degree reflects both the quality of university education and the great overcrowding of universities, a phenomenon that occurs throughout Europe. University education is funded by the federal government and the Lander (states), and the numbers of institutions and faculty positions have not expanded in proportion to the increasing number of students (Von Friedeburg 1991). The German Government has established 26 new Fachhochschulen in the former East Germany to create a more highly skilled labor force and to foster economic growth in that region (Government of the Federal Republic of Germany 1994).

France. Institutions of higher education in France include universities; technical institutes; and Grandes Écoles of engineering, business, and administration. The vast majority of students are in universities; only 90,000 students attend the prestigious Grandes Écoles (Feldman and Morelle 1994). Postsecondary two-year technology programs grew rapidly in the 1980s at the University Institutes of Technology and the Sections de Technicien Supérieur (Charlot and Pottier 1992).

United Kingdom. Until recently, higher education institutions in England and Wales were divided into three sectors: universities, polytechnics, and colleges. Most provide three-year degrees (following a 13-year elementary and secondary program), although degree awards in NS&E fields usually take four years. The universities are the longest established of the three sectors. Colleges were founded in the late 19th century for training personnel for local employers. Thirty polytechnics were created in the 1960s to broaden access to higher education for groups traditionally underrepresented. They originally were to have a vocational focus, but the course offerings of the polytechnics have gradually become similar to those of universities. In 1992, most polytechnics attained university status. The 46 existing universities retained their role as prime providers of research and still account for the large majority of natural science degrees. Only about half of all engineering and computer science degrees are obtained in universities, however; the other half are obtained in polytechnics and specialized colleges (Tarsh 1992).

(For more information on institutions of higher education in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, see NSF 1996a.)

The European expansion of higher education in science and engineering, and heavy investments in research and development (R&D), underpin a broader effort to maintain and enhance Europe's economic vitality through the European Union (EU). The EU is attempting to integrate the S&E research community and make the region's high concentration of science resources even more productive in order to increase competitiveness at the European and global levels (NSF 1996a).

Germany, France, and the United Kingdom account for most of this expansion of higher education; students from these three countries earned more than 60 percent of the first university degrees awarded in NS&E in Europe. The United Kingdom democratized its access to higher education through curricular reform of upper secondary education, providing the academic background for more students to continue in school past 16 years of age, with increased options to study science and subsequently enter the university. These reforms resulted in a significant increase in the number of NS&E degrees earned. Further, the number of U.K. degrees sharply increased in 1992 due to the reclassification of colleges and polytechnics as universities. In addition to a gradual expansion of higher education, a much larger number of engineering degrees in Germany resulted from the 1989 reunification of the former West Germany with the former East Germany, which-like many Central and Eastern European countries- had focused much of its higher education on engineering. (See NSF 1996a and appendix table 2-1.)

North America top

Trend data on Canada, Mexico, and the United States show a decline in earned undergraduate degrees in NS&E from 1986 to 1994.[6]  This decline is partly accounted for by changes in the demographics of the United States and Canada: specifically, the decline in college-age population that began in the mid-1980s. (See appendix table 2-3.) Initially, this downturn in the college-age cohort was offset by increasing access to higher education among all subpopulations. However, this broader access and increased enrollment in higher education did not result in larger numbers of bachelor's degree completions in S&E fields. In the United States, the ratio of NS&E degrees to total first university degrees has declined from 21 percent in 1987 to 15 percent in 1995. (See NSF 1993 and appendix table 2-6.) In contrast, Mexico has had an increasing college-age cohort and an expansion of earned university degrees from 1980 to 1992, particularly in engineering. Recent data from Mexico (1993 and 1994) show a decline in NS&E degrees, but this is due to major changes in taxonomies used in the classification of NS&E degrees and in the graduation requirements within Mexico's university system. (ANUIES 1996b.)

Regional Proportions of S&E Degree Production top

Opportunities for S&E education are increasing throughout the world, consequently, the U.S. proportion of the total is decreasing. In 1995, earned degrees in S&E in the North American region represented 23 percent of the three-region total. (See figure 2-2.) The United States represented less than 18 percent of such earned degrees. In considering only NS&E fields (excluding the social sciences), the U.S. proportion is even smaller.

Even though the lack of time-series data for all countries in these regions prevents a statistically sound comparison of regional proportions from an earlier period, the higher rate of change in the distribution of S&E degrees over time in other world regions has implications for the United States and other countries. The global diffusion of S&E education also has implications for the U.S. higher education system. Other countries' increasing capacity to educate in advanced levels of S&E helps explain the decline in foreign student enrollment in engineering programs in the United States. (See "Bachelor's Degrees in S&E" and "Trends in Graduate Enrollment" later in this chapter.) In addition, the continuing expansion of global capacity for S&E education has implications for all nations, since it indicates an increased potential for technological and economic development worldwide.

Reasons for the Global Increase in S&E Education top

Demographics top

The increase in S&E degree production in Asia is driven by the expansion of access to higher education for large or growing populations. Developing countries such as India and China have large populations in their college-age cohort and increasing participation rates in postsecondary education, while the industrialized countries of Japan, Western Europe, Canada, and the United States have declining student populations. Trend data on China's 20- to 24-year-old population show a decline from 1990 to 2005, but the number in this age segment is over 100 million for 1998. India's college-age cohort will have increased to 88 million by 1998. In contrast, the college-age population in Western European countries as a whole has declined from 30 million in 1985 to 25 million in 1998, and will continue to decline until 2005. The U.S. college-age cohort has been decreasing since 1980, and will continue to do so until 2000, when this age segment will slowly begin to rise. Japan's college-age population (10 million in 1995) will decrease by 30 percent in the next 15 years. (See figure 2-3 and appendix table 2-3.)

Increasing Participation Rate in NS&E Degrees top

Taiwan and South Korea dramatically increased their production of NS&E degrees from about 2 percent of their 24-year-olds in 1975 to 6 and 7 percent, respectively, in 1995. (See figure 2-4.) Japan has consistently had a high percentage of its 24-year-olds completing NS&E degrees since the 1970s; a slight decline in NS&E recipients in the late 1980s was followed by yet more growth in the 1990s. (See appendix table 2-1 for 1995 data and NSF 1993 for trend data on Asian countries.)

Asia's two population giants, India and China, have low attainment rates of NS&E degrees. India, with its huge, growing population, is maintaining its participation rate of 1.1 percent. In 1985, just under 0.9 percent of China's college-age population earned a bachelor's degree, and approximately 0.5 percent earned a degree in an NS&E field. Within a decade, these percentages rose to 1.3 percent with a bachelor's degree and 0.8 percent with an NS&E degree, although participation rates are still far lower than those for developed countries. (See appendix table 2-1; see NSF 1993 for trend data on Asian countries.) If China continues to increase its participation rate in NS&E degrees, and India can maintain its current rate with a growing population, the world stock of science and engineering graduates will be greatly augmented, and the U.S. share of S&E degrees will be reduced.

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. Rather, participation rates in higher education and NS&E degrees, previously low, have grown to more than offset the declining population. In Finland, for example, 9 percent of the college-age cohort obtains a university degree in the natural sciences or engineering-one of the highest participation rates in the world.

Differences in Participation Rates by Sex top

The growth in participation rates in NS&E degrees differs considerably for males and females across countries. Japan shows the largest disparity in completion of NS&E degrees by males and females of college age. In 1995, more than 11 percent of males in the college-age population earned an NS&E degree. One percent of Japan's females earned such a degree. South Korea has a similarly high percentage of college-age males earning an NS&E degree, and 4 percent of its female college-age population earned such a degree. In the United States, 7 percent of college-age males earned an NS&E degree, as did almost 4 percent of females. (See appendix table 2-4.)

In countries of the three world regions examined, women have been particularly successful in earning degrees in the natural sciences and the social sciences. By 1995, women earned 50 percent of the natural science degrees in higher education institutions in the United Kingdom, 54 percent in Italy, 47 percent in the United States, and 44 percent in South Korea. In most countries in the three regions, women have also earned the majority of first university degrees in the social sciences. The notable exceptions are Japan and South Korea, where women earn only a modest proportion of social science degrees-19 and 27 percent, respectively. Women in all countries are considerably less likely to earn degrees in engineering. (See appendix table 2-5.)

Focus on S&E in Higher Education top

Part of the reason for this rapid Asian growth has been the greater focus on these fields within Asian universities, with high quotas set for enrollments in these departments. Reflecting China's strategy to develop its economy through science and technology (see "Growth in Institutions of Higher Education in Asia"), 72 percent of its first university degrees are earned in S&E fields. In addition, about 67 percent of Japanese degrees and 46 percent of South Korean were in these fields. Among European countries, 46 percent of first university degrees in Germany and Finland are in S&E. Russia and Central and Eastern European countries are similarly focused on science and engineering. In contrast, less than one-third of first university degrees (bachelor's degrees) in the United States are earned in S&E. (See appendix table 2-6.)

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[2] Data in this section are taken primarily from the National Science Foundation, Science Resources Studies Division, Global Database on Human Resources for Science.

[3] A first university degree refers to completion of an undergraduate postsecondary degree program. These degrees are classified as level 6 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 Asian countries and the United States.

[4] Data were available from fewer countries for the 1992 regional totals. The 1995 European data include some Eastern European countries as well as Russia. (See appendix table 2-1.) See NSB (1996), appendix table 2-1, for countries included in 1992 regional totals.

[5] Western European countries are those within the European Union and the European Free Trade Association. (See appendix table 2-1.)

[6] Data are from NSF (1997a), unpublished tabulations.

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