Engineering in Economic Globalisation

Where The Engineers Are looks at engineering in the United States, India and China under globalisation and the role economics, commerce and education have in the development of engineers. The paper discovered that the US and India were pumping out about the same number of Engineers while China was producing about four times as many. India’s education system has been bottom driven as the state-run education institutions are seen as inefficient and restrictive. While China has had a state-led policy of producing more engineers. However, what China calls an engineer is not analogous to what the US and India call an engineer so the number in the article is lower than commonly used figures in political speeches.

The paper also found that there is not an under-supply of engineers in the US or India. There are no bonuses given for taking an engineering job in the US and most positions are filled within four months. Most of the US positions are more highly technical than those that get outsourced. The main reasons for outsourcing were for competitive economic reasons and included:

The top reasons survey respondents cited for going offshore were salary and personnel savings, overhead cost savings, 24/7 continuous development cycles, access to new markets, and proximity to new markets.

It was expected from the interviews the authors of the paper conducted that trends to outsource engineering will continue with only 5% saying it will stabilise or contract.

In the area of post-graduate education the trends for the US and India has seen a drop off in those taking Masters and Phds. In the US nearly 60% of those awarded PhDs are immigrants. It is possible that the high cost of doing a PhD in the United States makes it uneconomic for most engineers in the workforce.

The paper notes that this trend is dire for India as they risk not having enough PhDs to staff their educational institutions. By the same token nearly 25% of technology startups in the US have an immigrant, and more commonly an Indian Phd, as a founding partner. Indians are the most active immigrant entrepreneurial group in US startups of software and high-tech.

The paper concludes;

Our research shows that companies are not moving abroad because of a deficiency in U.S. education or the quality of U.S. workers. Rather, they are doing what gives them economic and competitive advantage. It is cheaper for them to move certain engineering jobs overseas and to locate their R&D operations closer to growth markets. There are serious deficiencies in engineering graduates from Indian and Chinese schools. Yet the trend is building momentum despite these weaknesses.

This final paragraph suggests that American engineers are being over-educated for what the market desires. I believe that is the case in Australian Universities as well. Graduates leave with highly specialised degrees which are over-educated for the labor market. Most engineering degrees could be two years in length and the individual would be just as capable and productive as with a four year degree.

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21 Responses to Engineering in Economic Globalisation

  1. jc says:

    Engineering degrees in Australia are now effectively two years although they take four years.

    The students are at least a year behind due to pathetic standards in secondary education. As subjects like Maths, Physics and Chemistry rely on understanding the subject the childminders masquerading as teachers can’t cope so it is necessary to downgrade the subjects.

    A quarter of the course is wasted in context “curriculum” to give parasites a warm and fuzzy feeling eg “Gender bias in Engineering” being more important than maths.

    Net result of this is the graduates are unemployable as engineers.

  2. conrad says:

    I find it hard to imagine engineering degrees being two years as well — it would be interesting to know what you think should be cut out of these degrees.

    It would also mean that students would actually be expected to work hard at university — which simply doesn’t happen now for many of them, and those that don’t work hard would also need to be failed, which again doesn’t happen. If you think 2 years is enough, try testing the literacy and numeracy skills of your average student with pass marks at the end of that time. You could have even more fun by seeing how completely unable most students are at solving open ended problems. Maybe you did your degree a decade ago — but that is nothing like the reality now.

  3. Tony Healy says:

    cam, while I agree that IT education is a complete mess, I disagree with your interpreting the report to suggest that Western courses are too long.

    The report actually suggests Indian and chinese engineers are under trained, not that Americans are over trained. The report also says that the more demanding jobs stay in America. That doesn’t support the claim that Western education should be shorter.

    I refer to IT education rather than engineering because I think that is the focus of the report and of your concerns. I have no problem with the way civil or chemical engineers are taught, for example.

    I also think it’s a bit unfortunate that you’ve ignored much more interesting aspects of this report, and of the debate that this report is part of. For example, it highlights the fact that much popular understanding of offshoring, and of the criticism of education, is misguided. It also adds to the significant literature exposing as frauds the claims about IT shortages.

    There is really a much bigger story here about a young and rapidly changing industry that’s extremely vulnerable to agenda-laden lobbying and incompetent analysis.

    In Australia, even well-credentialled academics have quoted bogus figures literally pulled from the air. And the involvement of Australian IT departments in spruiking a shortage for marketing reasons verges on criminal behaviour.

  4. Brendan says:

    Conrad, can you site courses/institutions? I have a B.E. from a major Australian uni, and my course was generally regarded as one of the most demanding undergraduate programs. I would be surprised if this has changed.

  5. Brendan says:

    site cite

  6. conrad says:


    Engineering has always been one of the hardest degrees and probably still is (I believe electrical is generally thought to be the hardest), but being hard doesn’t mean it hasn’t been watered down over time — No university is ever going to publish that they have made their courses easier.

    Alternatively, it is easy to get indirect evidence for this — I imagine all universities are willing to admit that the standard of science and mathematics education has gone down in high school, and hence the kids they get in simply don’t know as much as they once did. This means either universities are teaching more than they did to get to the same point, or people end up knowing less. You can work which of those is happening.

    Another thing that is common that didn’t used to be (it happens at the nameless university where I work, for example), is that we MUST pass at least 80% of students in any given course, or go through a whole administrative process of why we didn’t (which then gets over-ruled by a higher level mark changing committee anyway). You can imagine how much that limits what you are going to teach in a hard course like signals and systems, particularily at universities that are not exactly taking in the best of the best. You can combine with this is student satisfaction surveys, which again peope are supposed to maximize. How do you think people do that without doing extra work? (hint: high-marks, easy courses = good satsifaction).

    You can also look at surveys released by DEST and the like from time to time that look at the amount of work students do. This has also increased, so either students are doing more of everything, or there is a trade-off occuring. Again, I know which way my bets lie.

  7. Brendan says:

    Conrad –

    IMHO a course that cannot tell to within 80% (based on the HSC) that a student could complete is gaming the system, additionally it is better to do any ‘weeding’ early rather than waste a significant part of the students life. To the extent that engineering spends a year doing remedial teaching, we all know the best HSC science/maths students do law at uni – thats the way have always done things in Australia. :) I do accept that the amount of paid work students are doing these days might be forcing a significant decline in standards. This has certainly changed for the worse over the years.

    I think that there is currently not much need for technical skills in the Australian economy. I feel that there is less technical expertise required in the workforce than has been the case for many, many decades. I expect that in Australian engineering courses, relevance is more of a problem than standards.

    I would not be surprised if some of the difficulties you identify in uni education were not from subverting of the goals/market (rather as parts of TAFE were used in the 90’s to serve an industrial relations agenda). This sort of thing always tends to produce bad outcomes in the long run.

    btw, with regard to the beauty contests (while probably good for identifying the odd autistic lecturer) – I don’t understand how a student’s assessment can be other than superficial without a perspective that may take years to form. My own experience was that the good teachers were good researchers and good administrators. The bad were likewise dreadful/lazy at everything.

  8. conrad says:


    1) you have the wrong idea about what 80% means. 80% is an arbitrary number and there are hard subjects — people should work towards standards and not pass/fail numbers — its also extremely hard to predict how well people will perform at an individual (the correlation is around 0.3 in terms of HSC and uni marks). If it turns out that 30% of students fail signals and systems for instance (because its hard) taught at a level that is neccesary as either baseline knowledge for future subjects or because of workforce demands it, then 30% should be failed (or the subject could be made longer — but then it would have to compete with other stuff).

    2) I’m not sure why you don’t think the Australian economy doesn’t need staff with technical skills (or the author of the article for that matter) — on what is this based? Most recent job growth in Australia has been in either professionals or semi-professionals. Despite the propaganda, jobs in trade skills has been quite stagnant as have unskilled jobs. This suggests to me there is great demand for well qualified (and mainly well qualified) people.

    3) I agree that the problems I suggested are a problem with the market system — the main consumer that gets catered for is the student, and not the employer. This means pleasing students is of course the number 1 goal (including in the short term), and this comes into conflict sometimes. The probability of students complaining when failing a course these days must be around 80% (at a guess), which causes problems for all concerned (threats toward the staff member concerned are also common). The down-side of this is that we’re only too happy to let semi-illiterate people pass their degrees, which of course leads to degree inflation. I personally wouldn’t employ anyway with a bare pass-degree in my field and expect them to be good at anything, including writing simple documents. (4th year is a better bet).

  9. Just Me says:

    Anyone who thinks that a four year engineering degree can be reduced to 2 years, should try getting a two year Associate Diploma ‘engineer’ to do the job done by full degree engineers.

    Also, electronic, software, and chemical engineering degrees are not exactly easy either.

  10. Brendan says:

    Governments are all too willing to undercut wages in technical fields by opening up migration in any area that is seeing rising wages. This does not make a lengthy engineering course a wise choice for a bright lad (or lass). Add to that the decline of local manufacturing along with device replacement generally being cheaper than repair means that the skills needed are often not much more than the ability to wield a screwdriver. Engineering is still a valuable discipline and I am sure Australian graduates are successful – I just suspect most are successful in other/allied fields.

  11. Bobalot says:

    Anybody who seriously thinks that a four year engineering degree can be shrunk down to 2 years is quite frankly a moron. This isn’t economics or business studies where the only skill required to pass is a pulse.

  12. Bobalot says:

    “Another thing that is common that didnt used to be (it happens at the nameless university where I work, for example), is that we MUST pass at least 80% of students in any given course, or go through a whole administrative process of why we didnt (which then gets over-ruled by a higher level mark changing committee anyway).”

    I claim bullshit. I have been through electrical subjects that have 50%+ failure rates.

    “Net result of this is the graduates are unemployable as engineers.”

    I claim bullshit again. I am employed as an engineer. I wasn’t educated 10 years ago. All my friends I did engineering with are employed. Stop talking bullshit.

    “A quarter of the course is wasted in context curriculum to give parasites a warm and fuzzy feeling eg Gender bias in Engineering being more important than maths.”

    While there are a few subjects like these, most of the engineering course is in fact based on maths,science etc. Simply goto any university website and pull up the subject list and I guarantee you, these rubbish subjects number less than 5% of the total course. Hardly the 2 year gap we can apparently get rid of or a quarter that you speak of. What a load of bullshit.

    “The students are at least a year behind due to pathetic standards in secondary education. As subjects like Maths, Physics and Chemistry rely on understanding the subject the childminders masquerading as teachers cant cope so it is necessary to downgrade the subjects.”

    This is strange, because according to the OECD (I think, the people who do the human development indexes), our education system scores at number 2. Behind Denmark or Sweden (Some bloody Scandinavian country). People whine about our education system, but never actually have any proof that our system is actually bad. I never remember doing catch up courses for high school work. High school knowledge was assumed and everything was built upon that.

    So that was a whole lot of bullshit too.

  13. Jacques Chester says:


    I think you’re new here, so you wouldn’t know that we have a “civil comments” policy. Please stick to the arguments rather than calling people morons.


    Your Friendly Local Oppressor.

  14. conrad says:

    “I claim bullshit. I have been through electrical subjects that have 50%+ failure rates”

    I didn’t say every university has this type of scheme — But a lot do. Maybe yours was a tough one (mine isn’t, and its an Australian one — it also ranks highly up the ever dubious teaching quality list, and hence receives money because of this).

    “This is strange, because according to the OECD (I think, the people who do the human development indexes), our education system scores at number 2.”

    Which survey are you refering too? There’s lots of different surveys for lots of different areas (TIMMS, PISA etc. Australia is 5th on PISA, but then lots of students don’t continue in advanced mathematics any more, so it perhaps isn’t the best comparison). Can you provide a link?

    “I guarantee you, these rubbish subjects number less than 5% of the total course”

    Maybe you didn’t do percentages in your degree, but if you do 10 subjects a year for 4 years, you do 40 subjects. That means only 2 such subjects would get you to 5%.

  15. Patrick says:

    Despite Bobalot’s difficulty with our comments policy his basic points are quite right. I don’t know what University Conrad is speaking of but that does not describe the situation at Monash, Melbourne or Deakin.

    That said, it could probably be compressed somewhat – Eng students do drink a lot, for starters.

  16. conrad says:


    its done by individual faculties within universities, so it isn’t obvious who is doing what and how much people within those groupings respect the rules (and for that matter, what happens when they are broken). However, it is getting done, whether officially or unofficially — I have friends at two of the universities you have just mentioned, and they feel pressured to do this, as I have laughed about it with them (and other related things, like grade inflation — which is easy to quantify — just look at what percentage of students who now get H1 honours — what universities don’t give around 40%+ H1’s now ? 20 years ago, H1s were rare). Its also bound to occur more and more if things like the teaching performance funds start adding student pass rates to their equations, and money is then distributed based on this (as they evidentally do e.g., — I’m not sure how the government metric is calculated for their TPF)

  17. cam says:

    Tony, The report actually suggests Indian and chinese engineers are under trained, not that Americans are over trained.

    From the report:

    We were surprised that the majority of [US] respondents said they did not mandate that job candidates possess a four-year engineering degree. Forty percent hired engineers with two- or three-year degrees, and an additional 17% said they would hire similar applicants if they had additional training or experience.

    It suggests the job market is not requiring that an engineer have a four year degree, which suggests in at least 40% of cases the candidate is over-trained for the position.

    I also think its a bit unfortunate that youve ignored much more interesting aspects of this report, and of the debate that this report is part of.

    I don’t think I did ignore it. The second paragraph starts with there being an under-supply of engineers in the US and India.

  18. Brendan Halfweeg says:

    I’m an electrical engineer educated in Australia, and I agree that outside a few specialist roles, most engineers could suffice with a 3 year course, with perhaps a 4 year course leading to a masters degree. THe UK operates on a similar basis, I think, with 3 year courses consider bachelor degrees and master degrees taking an extra year. I actually think the level of maths in an engineering degree is more suited to life working in finance and banking as an analyst, which is where many engineering graduates end up. High analytical skills are valuable, and not just in the oil & gas, mining and utility industries.

  19. Tony Healy says:


    The reason I said youve ignored the more interesting aspects of the paper is that you just mention a couple of examples, without presenting its main argument, which is that much conventional reporting on offshoring is wrong. In particular, Wadhwa adds to some other work that torpedos popular exaggerations about Indian and Chinese training of engineers.

    The paragraph you quote doesn’t necesarily suggest Americans are overtrained. It simply says that hiring managers are not strict on requiring certain formal credentials. Also, it’s likely that the different hiring criteria derive from differing requirements of jobs, rather than suggesting all the 4-year degree holders are overtrained. You picked up on that paragraph because it aligns with one of your interests, but it’s not central to Wadhwa’s paper, and he doesn’t refer to it.

    Elsewhere the report tells us that masters or PhD holders are sought for higher-level jobs in R&D, which is not consistent with the view that 4 year holders are overtrained.

    As it happens, I agree with some of what you’re saying. Only parts of engineering and CS degrees are aligned with most jobs, and they’re certainly not essential for most jobs. It’s well known that only about 50 percent of developers have degrees in the field. Some very good developers even have degrees in non science fields.

    Where I disagree is in your interpretation of the Wadhwa report to justify the claims about compressing courses. Wadhwa is doing some very interesting work, but it’s not about that.

  20. Bobalot says:

    University of Technology Sydney here. We do 5 year courses in engineering. 4 years study and 1 year work experience.

    About our level of education. I’m sure I have read we are 2nd somewhere. I copied to my hard drive somewhere, but I can’t find it atm. The point I’m making is everybody whines like pussies about how bad we are without offering any actual proof. Relatively our education system is quite good. It has problems but it hardly the 3rd world dump that many posters paint an image of.

    Here’s a link. Doesn’t Show we are second, but it still shows we are doing fairly well.

    This despite the fact that is well known that in real terms Australia’s spending on education has gone backwards.

    “Maybe you didnt do percentages in your degree, but if you do 10 subjects a year for 4 years, you do 40 subjects. That means only 2 such subjects would get you to 5%.”

    I admit, that was off the top of my head. I will do it for you now. Straight out of the handbook. (They are re-arranging the courses, so the new handbook isn’t out yet. This is an archive from last semester)

    Electrical Engineering:

    Introduction to Electrical Engineering
    48610 Introduction to Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering
    48520 Electronics and Circuits
    48430 Embedded C
    48531 Electromechanical Systems
    48530 Circuit Analysis
    68038 Advanced Mathematics and Physics
    48441 Introductory Digital Systems
    48550 Electrical Energy Technology
    48451 Advanced Digital Systems
    48551 Advanced Electronics
    48560 Analogue and Digital Control
    48561 Power Electronics
    48570 Data Acquisition and Distribution
    48540 Signals and Systems
    48023 Object-oriented Programming
    48434 Embedded Systems
    48012 Capstone Project 12cp (Kind of like a thesis/major project)

    Total 114 Credit Pts. (6 per Subject)

    Core Subjects: I Will mark bullshit subjects with a *

    68037 Physical Modelling
    33130 Mathematical Modelling 1
    48210 Interrogating Technology: Sustainability, Environment and Social Change *
    33230 Mathematical Modelling 2
    48230 Engineering Communication *
    48240 Design Fundamentals
    48250 Engineering Economics and Finance
    48260 Engineering Project Management *
    48270 Engineering Enterprise

    Total 54 Credit points (18 Bullshit).

    I complained about finance subjects when I did them, but I must admit they are very handy. I think many engineers don’t have enough knowledge of the inner workings of business. Engineering Enterprise was particularity handy as an engineer business man bloke told us how he brought new technologies to market etc.

    Those 3 I marked, are really quite useless. Should be merged into one to save time. Maybe just not put in at all.

    12 Credit points for the Industrial Experience you do.

    24 points from electives. Too many here to post, but heres the link. (None of them bullshit, check for yourself)

    For those of you wondering I think the professional service project, is a actual product or service you do for a company.

    24 Credit points from the specialist stream. Either:

    STM90355 Biomedical Technology stream
    STM90354 Computer-aided Design stream
    STM90352 Sustainable Energy Systems stream
    STM90353 Intelligent Systems stream

    All up 204 credit points

    18/204*100 = 8.82% Certifiable useless subjects.

  21. Bobalot says:

    Note: You can either do 24 credit points of electives or one of the streams(Which is 24 credit points).

    It appears I can in fact do percentages.

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