The World Economic Forum reported that China had 4.7 million recent STEM ( science, technology, engineering, and math) graduates in 2016. India, another academic powerhouse, had 2.6 million new STEM graduates last year while the U.S. had 568,000. Chinese STEM graduates outnumber US STEM grads 8.2 to 1.
The gap is going to become even wider. Even modest predictions see the number of 25 to 34-year-old graduates in China rising by a further 300% by 2030, compared with an increase of around 30% expected in Europe and the United States. By 2030, China and India could account for more than 60% of the Stem graduates in major economies, compared with only 8% in Europe and 4% in the United States.
China has been building the equivalent of almost one university per week. It is part of a silent revolution that is causing a huge shift in the composition of the world’s population of graduates. For decades, the United States had the highest proportion of people going to university. They dominated the graduate market. Reflecting this former supremacy, among 55 to 64 year olds almost a third of all graduates in the world’s major economies are US citizens.
Engineering, economics and science majors in China all enjoy high starting salaries and the top employment rates. These graduates fill the highest-paid entry positions in the most attractive employment sectors of IT, operations, real estate and finance. Chinese tech graduates do particularly well. In 2015 the top five highest paying graduate jobs were all IT related.
The government’s “Made in China 2025” strategy to become a global high-tech leader in industries such as advanced IT and robotics has created plenty of opportunities for graduates in these fields.
Not only are the starting salaries high, but long-term earnings follow a starkly different trajectory. Three years after graduating, the top 15% of engineering, economics and science graduates earn more than double the median salary for other graduates.
Despite the rapid increase in the number of university graduates, Chinese companies complain of not being able to find the high-skilled graduates they need. The main deficit is in so-called “soft skills” such as strong communication, analytical and managerial skills. According to research by McKinsey, there is a short supply of graduates with these assets.