India leads the world in the number of students getting bachelors degrees in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
Of about 5 million students who received their bachelor's degrees in 2012 in STEM subjects worldwide, 29.2 per cent were from India, UNCTAD's Technology and Innovation Report 2018 released on Tuesday said.
China came next with 26 per cent of the STEM graduates. The EU accounted for 9.5 per cent of STEM graduates that year and the US for 6 per cent, the report said.
The report used statistics from 2012 and said the total number of bachelors-equivalent degrees awarded that year was 20 million.
The wide gulf in the numbers of students graduating in STEM explains why the US relies on such a large number of foreigners, especially Indians, to fill its technology workforce needs.
"Many countries are witnessing skills shortages in the fields of digital technologies and many employers report difficulties in filling high-skill vacancies," UNCTAD said, citing a 2016 worldwide survey by ManpowerGroup on talent shortage that found that 40 per cent of employers reported difficulties in filling positions.
According to India's University Grants Commission, 10.7 million students were studying science, engineering/technology or computer science in 2016-17, although it did not give a breakdown between undergraduate and postgraduate levels or by year of study.
They made up 36 per cent of those studying in universities and colleges, UGC statistics showed.
Looking to the future, UNCTAD cautioned that "there were indications that educational institutions were not keeping pace with technological advances during the current transition period".
It urged educational institutions to "react with agility" to the rapid pace of technology and the labour market changes and said this may require "significant transformations" in the education and training systems.
With the widespread use of artificial intelligence and robots looming on the horizon, the report said that "rapid technological progress required the labour force to develop a broader range of skills, focusing on humans' comparative advantage, to increase employability".
UNCTAD called for broadbasing education and said: "In the new technological landscape, there is a need for generic, core or fundamental skills such as literacy, numeracy and academic skills, together with basic financial and entrepreneurial skills and increasingly, basic digital and even coding skills."
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com)
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