Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Numbers in education.

Gerald Bracey writes in the Washinton Post, about the "myth" of 600,000 Chinese and 350,000 Indian engineers flooding the world, while the US supposedly graduates only 70,000! These numbers have raised concerns in various circles and people are alarmed that the US will lose its technological superiority...

In the above article, Gerald Bracey states that perhaps these numbers are a myth after all ! He quotes the results from the Duke University survey titled, "Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate: Placing the United States on a level playing field with China and India". The numbers, according to this survey, are completely different, as seen in the following table from that study...

According to these results, the US produces around 137,437 bachelors with an engineering degree, while India produces 112,000 and China 351,537. While I have no facts to discuss the numbers from China, I would like to state some points about the numbers presented above for India, which I think are essentially false. Having completed by undergraduate engineering degree from Bangalore, in the state of Karnataka in India, I have my doubts about these numbers. During the time of my admission, in the year 1997, I remember that the total number of engineering seats in the state, was close to 28,000! In succeeding years, that number has been rasied to now encompass close to 35,000 seats. Karnataka, along with the states of Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, probably churn out the largest number of engineering graduates in India...a rough estimate of close to 100,000 ! I believe that even Andhra Pradesh has a large number of engineering colleges. So, considering the large number of universities and engineering colleges strewn across India (I have seen numbers like 900-1000!) I do believe that the total number of admissions is closer to 300,000 - 400,000 (increasing every year), whereas the number of graduates every year (again, increasing) must be close to 200,000 - 250,000. Let us now dissect the various numbers...

[I must state that when I say "engineering", I mean the typical four year course of engineering, and not any other "degree course", "short-cycle degrees", "associated degrees" or "sub-baccalaurate degrees"...these have been excluded from my analysis.]

The Duke study apparently uses numbers for comparison from NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Service companies). I searched for similar results from NASSCOM on Google and found this interesting result...According to the above numbers, the number of admissions in the year 2004 (the year being considered for the Duke results as well) were of the order of 340,000 with around 184,000 graduates. Extrapolate to 4 years down the lane to 2008, and we should (hopefully) see a large percentage of them graduating...in my opinion, at least 200,000 to 250,000 ! Even the 112,000 number stated in the Duke survey doesn't agree with the above results. Another interesting result obtained was from the Information Technology report about India, produced by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (available from the Indian Embassy site), in which the following numbers appear (these are more recent, as we see results for the 2004-2005 period)...
These numbers indicate that the total number of engineering seats in India, is actually 464,743 ! In four years time, i.e. around the years 2009/2010, probably 350,000 - 400,000 thousand of them will graduate! Also, if we see the number for 2000-2001 (290,088) we could safely assume that around 200,000 of those people would have graduated between 2004-2006! Hence, we see that the "myth" of 350,000 engineers from India may not remain one for long...it will probably be surpassed in the next four or five years.

Update : I received some comments regarding the differences in the quality of the education between people graduating in the US and India/China. While this is a very good point I hadn't considered while writing this post, I must state, that I am only discussing the absolute numbers as a response to the Washington Post story and the Duke study...my thoughts about actual quality, I shall discuss in some future post...

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