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The top five countries by science graduates globally in 2016 were China, the USA, the UK, Indonesia and the Philippines. The juxtaposition of both advanced as well as developing economies in this spectrum reveals an interesting pattern and may even suggest a possible shift in global employment dynamics. Advanced economies such as the USA could face a skills shortage in the future as job prospects for science graduates improve in emerging countries, while protectionism and ageing populations threaten their future student uptake.
This has strategic implications for brands when deciding where best to set up their R&D facilities, further reinforced by more competitive wage rates in emerging economies. At the same time, such shifts have economic implications and are likely to drive future public policies, for example as governments look to boost funding to get more students interested in science.
The share of science graduates as a percentage of total graduates in China declined steadily over the past decade, from 13.3% in 2006 to 10.6% in 2016. In fact, science was the least popular subject recording the lowest growth for number of graduates between 2006 and 2016.
In an effort to move up the value chain, in May 2015 the government announced “Made in China 2025” – a strategic initiative to comprehensively upgrade Chinese industry and establish an innovation-driven economy, initially up to 2025 and then on to 2035 and 2049. This will effectively drive interest in science and boost the share of science graduates.
Given its sophisticated consumer market, innovation is a key part of the country’s economy. But the country faces the prospect of a future skills shortage in this field. The population aged 16-25 is projected to fall by 0.3% between 2017 and 2030, which means that the number of students enrolling for higher education will also fall. Added to this is the looming threat of protectionism which is likely to severely restrict the movement of foreign students and migrant workers thus contributing to the future threat of a potential skills gap.
Science has been a popular subject in the UK recording a period growth of 42.4% between 2006 and 2016, compared to an increase of 10.5% for all programs.
Despite the positive indicators the country faces the prospect of a skills shortage in the future. Firstly, foreign students comprised 19.4% of all students in higher education in 2017, a large number of whom are from the EU countries. The impending Brexit is likely to impact the inflow of foreign students into the UK. In addition, the UK has an ageing population with only 2.8% growth projection for people in the age brackets 16-25 between 2017 and 2030, compared to 31.2% for people in the age brackets 65-80. This means that there will be slow uptake of students in higher education in the future.
Science in Indonesia picked up from a share of 5.5% of total graduates in 2009 to 11.7% in 2016, translating to 167% period growth.
The government aims to make the country a leading player in frontier research and in 2016. Its new initiatives are expected to boost the number of science graduates in the future and significantly improve the quality of the workforce.
Science graduates accounted for 14.5% of total graduates in 2016 and grew 114% (period growth) between 2006 and 2016 in the Philippines on account of an expanding middle class.
Wage rates in the Philippines are higher than its peers and this could be a deterrent to the government’s plan to attract more investment particularly from China, but better quality workforce can make it more competitive and compensate for higher wages in the country.