Credit: zimmytws /

Futureproof Countries?

Increasing digitalization has a direct impact on the skillsets of many nations’ workforces. Students with university degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are in particular demand. We wonder: Which of the following countries currently has the highest share of such graduates in its working-age population?

A. United States
B. France
C. Germany
D. China

A. United States … is not correct.

The U.S. concentration of STEM graduates is slightly lower than the OECD average (25%). As of 2016, 23% of U.S. 25 to 64-year-olds have a university-level education in a STEM field.

Given its reputation as a hotbed of IT, the United States has a surprisingly strong emphasis on the arts and humanities, social sciences, journalism and information. 30% of its working-age university-educated population holds degrees in these fields. No other OECD country except Italy, also 30%, compares.

Compared to Germany, the United States has the same concentration of degree-holders in the business and law category (22%) and in the health and welfare category (9%).

To improve the country’s economic prospects, U.S. immigration and visa law has traditionally included priority access for a certain number of highly-educated foreign workers, especially in the IT field. The Trump Administration wants to significantly reduce these visas, to ensure more jobs in STEM fields go to the U.S-born population.

B. France … is not correct.

In France, 27% of all people with a university-level education and aged between 25 to 64 years have a degree in one of the four STEM fields, according to the OECD.

The level of STEM education in France’s adult population is almost the same as the OECD-wide average (25%).

The OECD’s data for STEM graduates reflect only those who currently live there, rather than current students or expatriates working abroad.

Across OECD countries, the average percentage for degrees in business, administration or law is 23%; for degrees in arts and humanities, social sciences, journalism or information, it is 19%; and for degrees in health or welfare as well as degrees in education, it is 13% each.

Several key OECD members did not have internationally comparable statistics available, including Canada, United Kingdom, Japan and South Korea. These countries are thus not included in the OECD rankings for STEM education.

C. Germany … is correct.

At 35%, Germany has the largest STEM percentage share of its university-educated working-age population, with Austria following closely behind at 34%.

They are followed by a number of OECD countries – Spain, Estonia, Switzerland, Finland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania – with a 29-30% share each.

Despite this high percentage, the German economy has an unmet demand for additional STEM workers (known as “MINT” workers in the German acronym), especially in the IT field.

In 2015, the gap for technical or natural sciences degree-holders was 137,000, and it could be as high as 670,000 by 2020. In part, this workforce gap reflects aging trends. STEM-trained, skilled immigrants from countries such as Spain are increasingly used to fill spots in Germany.

In some countries, there is political resistance to the recent emphasis on STEM education, mainly that it comes at the expense of other fields such as the humanities.

22% of Germans hold degrees in business, administration or law. That is about OECD average.

Only 13% of Germany’s university-educated working-age population holds degrees in arts and humanities, social sciences, journalism or information (compared to the OECD average of 19%). Meanwhile, just 9% hold degrees in health or welfare (lower than the average) and 15% holds degrees in education (higher than the average).

D. China … is not correct.

China and India still have relatively small proportional shares of their respective populations with university degrees in any field (not just STEM), but they are catching up fast.

Both nations now graduate more students annually than any other country on earth. Millions of them each year are graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This foreshadows the rapid return especially of China, but also of India toward a leading economic position in the world.

Many of these nations’ top students are educated abroad in STEM fields, especially in the United States. At U.S. universities, students from abroad now earn half or more of all PhDs granted in engineering, computer and information sciences and mathematics or statistics.

While many of these students have traditionally remained in Western countries after graduation, they now return home in increasing numbers, also due to strong growth prospects in their home countries’ economies.

Note for editors: A databank for STEM degree prevalence is available in PDF from The Globalist Research Center.

Word count: 738