China Outpacing Rivals in Producing Graduate-Level Engineers, Study Finds

April 1, 2007

China is "racing ahead" of both the United States and India in producing graduates with advanced engineering and technology degrees and in its ability to perform basic research, according to new findings in a Duke University-authored article published in the online edition of Issues in Science and Technology.

The trend is part of a complex picture that challenges popular wisdom and sheds new light on how the United States and its two emerging Asian rivals—China and India—may compete for the technical talent that will underlie future jobs and industries.

"Where the Engineers Are" is one of four articles about India and China that appeared March 16 in the journal published jointly by the National Academy of Sciences and others.

The Duke authors—Vivek Wadhwa, Gary Gereffi, Ben Rissing and Ryan Ong—dispute popular claims that India and China are graduating many times more baccalaureate-level engineers than the United States. However, they say China leads the other two countries in producing master's and doctoral degrees. Looking beyond these statistics, they examine how the situation is affected by the quality of Indian and Chinese graduates, international job marketability, salary deflation and unemployment.

The authors say producing more undergraduate engineers alone will not enable the United States to protect its engineering jobs from the kind of outsourcing that has occurred in other fields. It is not deficiencies in American workers or the availability of skills in other countries that are driving companies abroad. America needs to find ways to keep critical research and design activities that lead to technology innovation at home, the authors say, adding that the remedies for preserving U.S. competitiveness need to be based on more fact and research.