The "engineering gap"

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The Christian Science Monitor takes on the liberal myth that too few American students are graduating from university with engineering degrees.  Mr. Mark Clayton poses the question: If China graduates more than eight times the number of engineers that the United States does, is it thrashing America in the technology race?

Contrary to the claims by liberals such as Thomas Friedman in his best—selling book The World is Flat and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, the so—called engineering gap disappears upon closer examination.  Mr. Clayton explains:

By making more specific comparisons, US competitiveness, as measured by newly minted engineers, is not eroding as fast as many say — if it's eroding at all, according to a Duke University study released last week.

"Inconsistent reporting of problematic engineering graduation data has been used to fuel fears that America is losing its technological edge," the study states.

"A comparison of like—to—like data suggests that the US produces a highly significant number of engineers, computer scientists, and information technology specialists, and remains competitive in global markets."

At the center of the controversy is an October report issued by the highly regarded National Academies that claims China adds 600,000 new engineers a year, while America adds only 70,000. Asia's other fast growing economic power India, with 350,000 new engineers a year, is also outdoing the US, the study suggested.

But when comparing apples with apples and oranges with oranges, the numbers do not look so frightening.  Mr. Clayton goes on to say:

In its revised figures, the National Academies reduced the Chinese total from 600,000 to 500,000. The Duke study pegs the total at 644,106, as reported by the Chinese Ministry of Education. But the study also points out that, as with India, the Chinese total includes engineering graduates with so—called "short cycle degrees" that represent three years or less of college training.

"China includes in its count a lot of graduates — including auto mechanics — who would not be included as engineers in the US or many other nations," says Gary Gereffi, a coauthor of the study and a professor of sociology who directs Duke's Center on Globalization, Governance, and Competitiveness.

During my five years teaching business management courses in Beijing and Shanghai, I have realized that most 'university students' actually attend full—time classes for a total of three years or less.

And to make matters worse, many Chinese professors use a traditional teaching style that puts a great emphasis on theory, at the expense of practical knowledge. This often leads to graduates with little applied knowledge that would be most useful in the workplace or on the factory floor.

Americans should not be afraid of China and India's economic rise. As I wrote here on October 13:

It is inevitable, and probably desirable that more countries join the ranks of advanced manufacturers. America's prosperity does not rest on a foundation of others' poverty and backwardness. Our flexibility, creativity, and responsiveness to market signals, along with our traditions of hard work and the rule of law will keep us ahead.

While we must continue to make investments in education opportunities and public infrastructure, it is important not underestimate America's hidden strengths.

Brian Schwarz   12 20 05

The Christian Science Monitor takes on the liberal myth that too few American students are graduating from university with engineering degrees.  Mr. Mark Clayton poses the question: If China graduates more than eight times the number of engineers that the United States does, is it thrashing America in the technology race?

Contrary to the claims by liberals such as Thomas Friedman in his best—selling book The World is Flat and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, the so—called engineering gap disappears upon closer examination.  Mr. Clayton explains:

By making more specific comparisons, US competitiveness, as measured by newly minted engineers, is not eroding as fast as many say — if it's eroding at all, according to a Duke University study released last week.

"Inconsistent reporting of problematic engineering graduation data has been used to fuel fears that America is losing its technological edge," the study states.

"A comparison of like—to—like data suggests that the US produces a highly significant number of engineers, computer scientists, and information technology specialists, and remains competitive in global markets."

At the center of the controversy is an October report issued by the highly regarded National Academies that claims China adds 600,000 new engineers a year, while America adds only 70,000. Asia's other fast growing economic power India, with 350,000 new engineers a year, is also outdoing the US, the study suggested.

But when comparing apples with apples and oranges with oranges, the numbers do not look so frightening.  Mr. Clayton goes on to say:

In its revised figures, the National Academies reduced the Chinese total from 600,000 to 500,000. The Duke study pegs the total at 644,106, as reported by the Chinese Ministry of Education. But the study also points out that, as with India, the Chinese total includes engineering graduates with so—called "short cycle degrees" that represent three years or less of college training.

"China includes in its count a lot of graduates — including auto mechanics — who would not be included as engineers in the US or many other nations," says Gary Gereffi, a coauthor of the study and a professor of sociology who directs Duke's Center on Globalization, Governance, and Competitiveness.

During my five years teaching business management courses in Beijing and Shanghai, I have realized that most 'university students' actually attend full—time classes for a total of three years or less.

And to make matters worse, many Chinese professors use a traditional teaching style that puts a great emphasis on theory, at the expense of practical knowledge. This often leads to graduates with little applied knowledge that would be most useful in the workplace or on the factory floor.

Americans should not be afraid of China and India's economic rise. As I wrote here on October 13:

It is inevitable, and probably desirable that more countries join the ranks of advanced manufacturers. America's prosperity does not rest on a foundation of others' poverty and backwardness. Our flexibility, creativity, and responsiveness to market signals, along with our traditions of hard work and the rule of law will keep us ahead.

While we must continue to make investments in education opportunities and public infrastructure, it is important not underestimate America's hidden strengths.

Brian Schwarz   12 20 05