WASHINGTON – Skilled workers in India and China will be increasingly better positioned to compete for the best jobs of the future because of the strategic investments those nations are making in education.
That is the prediction made in a new report released Tuesday that portrays India and China as two of the United States’ most serious competitors in producing workers with the prerequisite skills necessary to obtain STEM-related jobs in the global economy in the coming years.
“This is not all bad. Increased educational and family investments made by our rising competitors, China and India, are lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, increasing the human capital available to solve global problems, and creating new markets for the United States,” says the report, titled “The Competition that Really Matters: Comparing U.S., Chinese, and Indian Investments in the Next-Generation Workforce.”
“But if the United States is going to stay competitive,” the report continues, “we must make a renewed effort to support our most valuable asset — the next generation of leaders and workers equipped with the skills and knowledge to keep America in her accustomed position of prominence.”
The report — jointly produced by the Center for American Progress and The Center for the Next Generation — is described by its authors as a “roadmap” for what the United States needs to do to ensure its future competitiveness.
It was also the subject of a panel discussion Tuesday at the Center for American Progress.
“This report is important because it makes the statement that other nations recognize what has made the United States strong, which is our investment in human capital,” said panelist Dr. Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
Hanushek said the economies of China and India “are not very good economies right now, but in 20 years may look entirely different.”
“What we want to think about here is not how they are investing, but it’s what they’re doing,” Hanushek said. “It’s their models of commitment to the future that we don’t quite see in the same regard in the United States. I think it’s a challenge to the United States’ future.”
“Not that the nation will fall apart or go into a long recession, but it won’t keep pace and we won’t have the standard of living at the forefront that we’re used, to, not doing the kind of jobs that we’re used to in terms of technological leadership and so forth, and that’s the key.”
“This is the defining issue of the day,” said Delaware Gov. Governor Jack Markell, chair of the National Governors Association.
Businesses, Gov. Markell noted, have more choices than ever about where they’re going to locate jobs. States cannot think about competing for businesses until the businesses first decide to stay in the United States, he said.
Borrowing from Gallup, Inc., CEO Jim Clifton’s book, The Coming Jobs War, Markell noted that 3 billion people in the world are competing for 1.2 billion jobs, creating a “global jobs war, which means a global war for talent, because jobs will go where the talent goes.”
Higher education — particularly the number of degrees awarded in India and China — features prominently in the report.
It’s not that India and China are producing a higher proportion of graduates than the United States, but because of the large population of each country — 1.2 billion in India and 1.3 billion in China — the number of college graduates being produced in China and India will soon make their workforces more competitive.
“Even though developing countries face numerous educational challenges, the sheer population sizes of China and India mean that relatively soon they will match the United States in the number of skilled-workers competing in globally-mobile industries,” the report states. “And the right sort of education flows directly into the innovation that drives competitiveness.”
The report draws stark comparisons between the number of STEM degrees being awarded in the U.S. versus India and China.
From 2000 to 2008, the report states, STEM degree awarded in the U.S. increased by 24 percent, or about 98,000 graduates, to 496,000.
During the same timeframe, the report states, China increased its annual pace of STEM degrees awarded by 218 percent, to 1,143,000 graduates from 359,000.
“India tells a similar story,” the report states. “The number of bachelor-equivalent degrees conferred there in engineering, computer science, and information technology more than tripled in the last seven years. There were nearly 220,000 such Indian degrees handed out in 2006, up from about 68,000 in 1999, according to a Duke University study.”
The report notes that both India and China have ambitious plans to boost postsecondary attainment, as does the United States.
In India, the report notes, the government plans to enroll 40 million students in college by 2020 — a goal that will require 26 million more spots.
“India already confers more bachelor’s degrees than the United States, and by 2020 will be conferring 8 million a year, compared with around 2 million here,” the report states.
In China, degrees are projected to be granted to more than 200 million college graduates.
“That’s three to four times the annual U.S. rate between 2000 and 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.” The report also notes that China’s spending on higher education increased from $20.5 billion to $50.9 billion from 2000 to 2006.
Some audience members questioned, however, the quality of the degrees awarded in India and China — issues that are also addressed in the report.
Matt James, president and CEO of The Center for the Next Generation, said the point of the report is to underscore the need to invest in education domestically.
“The takeaway is not necessarily that we’re getting beaten right now by China or India, but they are investing big time,” James said. “And unless we invest more at all levels, then we definitely will be beaten by China and India in quality of graduates and sheer number.”