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Four out of 10 graduates worldwide from China and India by 2020

Four out of every 10 university graduates will come from just two countries – China and India – by 2020, according to a new report from the OECD. China alone will account for 29% of graduates aged 25-34, with the United States and Europe stagnating at just over a quarter.

The report says that if current trends continue, the number of 25- to 34-year-olds from Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa with a higher education degree will be almost 40% higher than the number from all OECD countries in 2020.

The latest in the series of Education in Focus reports records that in 2000 there were 51 million 25- to 34-year-olds with higher education degrees in OECD countries, and 39 million in non-OECD G20 countries. The OECD sent the paper out last week.

One in every six 25- to 34-year-old with a higher education degree was from the United States, and a similar proportion was from China; 12% came from the Russian Federation and about 10% each were from Japan and India.

By 2010, the same countries still possessed the largest shares of young people with a degree – but in a different order. According to OECD estimates, China accounted for 18%, followed by the US with 14%, the Russian Federation and India (each with 11%) and Japan with 7%.

The OECD concedes that its projections may actually underestimate the future growth of the global talent pool, partly because a number of countries are pursuing initiatives to further drive up qualifications among their young people.

It cites the goal set in 2009 by the US to become the nation with the highest proportion of 25- to 34-year-old tertiary graduates – requiring the proportion of younger adults in the US with a degree to reach 60% by the end of the decade.

It also acknowledges the progress made by European Union member states to increase the percentage of 30- to 34-year-olds completing higher education by at least 40% – Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK have already reached this goal for the 25- to 34-year-old population.

These ambitions are dwarfed by China, “which has quintupled its number of tertiary graduates and doubled its number of tertiary institutions in the last 10 years”.

It aims for 20% of its citizens – or 195 million people – to have higher education degrees by 2020. If this goal is realised, the OECD says that China will have a population of tertiary graduates roughly equal in size to the entire projected population of 25- to 64-year-olds in the US in 2020.

And it predicts that the ceiling for jobs in science and technology has not been reached and that individuals from increasingly better-educated populations will continue to have good employment outcomes, as long as economies continue to become more knowledge based.

“On average across OECD countries, human resources in science and technology (HRST) occupations represented more than a quarter of total employment in 2010,” the report says.

“In Luxembourg, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland, HRST workers accounted for more than 40% of all employees, while in India, China and Indonesia they accounted for less than 10%.”

Importantly, it points out, between 1998 and 2008 employment in these occupations “increased at a faster rate than total employment in all OECD and G20 countries with available data”.

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