A Changing Landscape: University hotspots for science and technology

by Alessandra Colecchia
Head of Economic Analysis and Statistics at the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry

Where are all the hot spots for science education? You might guess the United States, where many of the esteemed Ivy Leagues call home. Indeed, 40 of the world’s top universities are in the US, excelling in a wide range of disciplines. Nevertheless, if you take a deeper look at the education landscape a more diverse picture emerges.

A recent OECD report, OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2011, showed some surprising results on trends in education, technology and science.  While the US remains the top performer in research and development (R&D), non-OECD countries are catching up fast, both in spending and number of researchers. In 2009, China became the second largest R&D performer. The UK plays a key role in top social science universities, with 16 of the top 50 universities, and higher education institutions in Asia are quickly becoming leading research institutions in the fields of science, engineering, and computer science.

The OECD report complements the recent research released last week from Education at a Glance. Among the vast amount of interesting facts on education around the world EAG showed that almost 50% of the world’s university grads come from only three countries: the US, China, and Japan. It also found that the largest numbers of international students worldwide are from China, India, and Korea. 
What does this mean and why is it important? As students and researchers become more mobile, new sets of elite universities outside of the US could materialize. Whether or not we call it the “Banyan” or “Bonsai” League is yet to be determined, but it is clear that OECD countries may no longer have the monopoly on scientific excellence in higher education.
Luckily for us, education is generally not a zero-sum game. When others gain important insights and breakthroughs in science and technology, the entire field benefits. So wherever you are in the world, you can wear your college sweatshirt with pride.
If you’re interested in the numbers, or just want to know more about how your country’s university is doing, check out the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2011.
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