According to today's Wall Street Journal, R&D is growing rapidly in China:
Multinational companies, drawn by a huge and inexpensive talent pool, are pouring money into research and development in China — a trend that promises to broaden the country's huge role in the global economy.
The total number of foreign-invested R&D centers in the country has surged to about 750 from 200 four years ago, according to China's Ministry of Commerce. And in a survey of multinationals published in September by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, China was by far the most frequently cited location for R&D expansion, well ahead of the U.S. and third-place India, China's chief rival as an emerging innovator.
So then I did some Googling and found a recent article from a publication called Inside Higher Ed claiming that the situation isn't so dire and the U.S. still leads in engineering. But reading the Higher Ed article closely, the case isn't made very well.
The Duke report, which uses data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, the National Association of Software and Service Companies, and the Chinese Ministry of Education, put the number of American degrees in 2004 in engineering, computer science, and information technology at 222,335; Indian degrees at 215,000; and Chinese degrees at 644,106.
Wow, that's nearly three times as many engineers in China, and the numbers will surely grow because China has about for times our population, China is still developing and many citizens of China's poorer regions are still gaining access to higher education, and the Chinese obviously have greater respect for engineers than we do in the U.S. where engineers are stereotyped as nerdy geeks. A big percentage of engineering graduates in the U.S. are foreign born or first generation. Engineering is just not a career that native Americans are interested in.
People brainwashed into thinking that America is always the best will denigrate the Chinese engineers. For example, the Higher Ed article says:
A key factor is often left out of the doomsday prophesying: quality. Over 290,000 of the Chinese degrees, and 103,000 of the Indian degrees are “subbaccalaureate.” In the United States, 84,898 of the engineering degrees awarded were associate degrees.
In the U.S., an associate degree is a worthless degree that attracts students who aren't smart enough to make it in a B.S. program, but I wouldn't assume the same about China. I have been told that junior high school aged Chinese students are learning the same math as high school aged American students. International math and science comparison always place Americans students behind those of China and other Asian countries. When it comes to science and math, the U.S. is certainly not the world leader.
When you subtract these lesser degrees, the comparison seems almost as dire: 354,106 baccalaureate level Chinese engineers vs. 137,437 American engineers. And the momentem is with the Chinese. We can expect declining enrollment of engineering students in America and increasing enrollment in China.
This is yet another example of how the U.S. is becoming a marketing economy while China, a few decades behind us, is now becoming an information economy.