|By Vivek Wadhwa
India may be graduating fewer engineers
than we’ve been led to believe.
University deans, business executives
and political leaders seem to agree
that we risk losing our competitive
edge to India and China. These countries
reportedly graduate 12 times the
number of engineers the United States
does. So we must increase spending
on education and research and double
the number of engineering graduates
to keep pace.
There would be reason to worry
if there was indeed a looming shortage
of engineers and if the numbers
in this debate were accurate. A
team of student researchers at Duke
University has determined that some
of the most cited statistics on
engineering graduates are inaccurate.
Having founded two tech companies,
I’ve long been at the center
of the outsourcing debate and thought
I understood the issues. But after
joining Duke University as an executive
in residence, I was embarrassed
that I couldn’t answer basic
questions from my engineering students.
What courses would lead to the best
job prospects and what jobs were
I knew that with a master’s
of engineering management degree
from Duke, these students were destined
to be leaders. As Pratt School Dean
Kristina Johnson says, “Leadership
can’t be outsourced.”
Yet no one could answer these critical
questions. At Johnson’s suggestion,
we decided to research the topic.
We picked a team of our brightest
students and set out to compare
international engineering degrees
and analyze employment opportunities.
First, we wanted to get a handle
on the facts. The most commonly
cited numbers for annual engineering
graduation are 600,000 from institutions
of higher education in China, 350,000
from India and 70,000 from the United
States. We simply couldn’t
find the basis for these. It seems
that the first reference to these
numbers was by an American technology
executive in Taiwan in 2002. The
same numbers have been used repeatedly
ever since with sources citing each
Our team determined that in an
apples-to-apples comparison, the
United States graduated 222,335
engineers versus 215,000 from India
in 2004. The closest comparable
number reported by China is 644,106,
but this includes additional majors.
Looking strictly at four-year degrees,
the United States graduated 137,437
engineers versus 112,000 from India.
China reported 351,537 under a broader
category. All of these numbers include
information technology and related
majors and don’t account for
major differences in education quality.
Our report received widespread
media coverage and has gained the
attention of political leaders.
It has caused the National Academies
to issue a small revision to a report
they recently published on U.S competitiveness.
The question one could ask is why
it took a team of students to shed
such light on this critical issue.
This semester, we’re continuing
our effort to determine what types
of engineering jobs have already
been outsourced, what companies
expect to outsource and what skills
business executives believe will
give this country an advantage.
There are also other issues that
need to be looked at. An increasing
number of engineering graduates
are entering fields other than engineering.
At Duke, 30 percent of our engineering
management students indicate they
want jobs in investment banking.
This is not surprising as engineering
salaries have not increased significantly
over the past two decades. Women
constitute only 20 percent of engineering
graduates while we’re becoming
increasingly dependent on foreign
students to fill our engineering
schools. Why not encourage more
women to enter engineering?
Let’s fully understand the
problems before rushing to fix them.