China is overtaking India and the US in terms of graduating engineers with advanced degrees, underscoring a shortage of talent to perform critical research and development in the latter two countries, according to a study this week in a National Academy of Sciences publication.
The US, particularly, risks losing its global edge by outsourcing high-end research and design to low-cost destinations as India, China and Mexico, the study authors wrote in the US-based magazine, Issues in Science and Technology.
The article, headlined “Where the Engineers Are,” says India’s Ph.D. graduates have remained flat at about 1,000 per year. China, meanwhile, graduated 9,427 in 2005, while the US graduated 7,333.
“India is in particularly bad shape, as it does not appear to be producing the numbers of Ph.D.s needed even to staff its growing universities,” authors Vivek Wadhwa, Gary Gereffi, Ben Rissing and Ryan Ong wrote.
Their study was sponsored by North Carolina-based Duke University and published by the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, a group of scholars who advise the US government on policy matters.
Indian observers say the report confirmed what they have suspected for some time and something that those in the business of hiring, from universities to technology companies, have complained about for years. Still, they say, India’s larger information-technology and IT-enabled services have been able to secure higher-end work from foreign companies by more intensely training workers.
‘’Most people that opt for Ph.D. and technical degrees are finding work avenues here, but they are also going to other countries such as the US, China and Germany,’’ said Nalina Iyer, a Hyderabad-based recruitment consultant that helps many technology companies hire.
Increasingly in China, researchers who publish their work in international journals are accorded status as national heroes, said Wadhwa, the lead author.
“China is building up its stock talent massively and making significant investments in its education system. The Indian government, on the other hand, is playing politics with the education system and killing the golden goose,’’ Wadhwa said in a telephone interview with Mint.
Some firms disagreed with Wadhwa’s characterization, saying they have not had a problem finding qualified and educated employees.
Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, a large pharmaceuticals company which specializes in research and drug discovery, has about 250 Ph.D. recipients, mostly Indian, on its staff of 950 scientists. “We do not face any shortage of highly qualified engineers,” said spokeswoman Mythili Mamidanna. “In fact, a lot of foreigners are tempted to work in India because it is more challenging here and pay scales and working conditions have improved greatly.”
Still, the report also says that 60% of the students pursuing master’s degrees and Ph.D.s in the US are immigrants themselves, mostly from India and China. As their own homelands’ economies improve, the authors note that these immigrants are more likely to return home. The US “cannot continue to depend on India and China to supply such graduates,” they say.
The study found that the US faced disadvantages in hiring due to salary demands and a limited supply of talent. In India and China, the disadvantages tended to be inadequate communication skills and cultural differences.
It also found one of the biggest challenges for the engineering profession was that salaries are not competitive with those of other highly trained professionals: “It makes more financial sense for a top engineering student to become an investment banker than an engineer. This cannot be fixed directly by the government,’’ it says.
But others in the IT industry said the Indian government could help matters by offering grants, better infrastructure, even salaries, as students pursue their degrees. Such incentives are common in China and the US.
‘’The government should provide incentives to Ph.D. degree holders and promote and encourage them and allocate more resources to them,” said J.A. Chowdary, president of the Hyderabad chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE), a group that promotes entrepreneurship.
Cost savings, strong education or training were common advantages of hiring from both India and China; however India offered companies better technical knowledge and English-language skills over China. Dr Reddy’s Mamidanna said that was a key advantage over the Chinese: “Language is an important aspect and the Chinese are not too fluent in English.”
Ranbaxy Labs, another leading pharmaceuticals company, employs about 1,100 scientists, of which 350 are Ph.D. holders. “We are attracting talent from both India as well as the overseas at both the entry-level engineers and highly qualified engineers,” said spokesman Krishnan Ramalingam. “India’s scientific talent pool is its core strength.”