Written by Joanna Hughes

American businessman and former politician once declared STEM education to be “the key to the U.S.’s economic future.” But the US is far from alone. STEM studies are the global imperative, with countries investing in STEM education initiatives positioned for profound gains in the coming years.

So which country comes out ahead when it comes to the number of students pursuing STEM studies bachelor’s degrees? India, according to a recent report from The Economic Times. Here’s a closer look.

The Inside Edge

According to data from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 29.2 percent of the five million students all over the world who received bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math in 2012 were from India. Next came China, which claimed 26 percent of all STEM graduates. The EU and the US trailed further behind with 9.5 percent and 6 percent, respectively, of worldwide STEM graduates.

Data from India’s University Grants Commission backs this up. Nearly 11 million Indian students pursued STEM studies in India during the 2016-2017 academic year, accounting for an impressive 36 percent of India’s higher education student population.

Key Takeaways

Experts say this data explains a lot, including why the US depends on foreigners to satisfy its workforce needs. Reveals UNCTAD’s Technology and Innovation Report 2018, “Many countries are witnessing skills shortages in the fields of digital technologies and many employers report difficulties in filling high-skill vacancies.”

Given this shortfall of talent, UNCTAD cautioned that “there were indications that educational institutions were not keeping pace with technological advances during the current transition period.” It further called for colleges and universities to “react with agility” in order to keep up.

More specifically, UNCTAD recommended “broadbasing” education. “In the new technological landscape, there is a need for generic, core or fundamental skills such as literacy, numeracy and academic skills, together with basic financial and entrepreneurial skills and increasingly, basic digital and even coding skills,” the report proposed.


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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