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Global engineering revealed

14 September 2016

A new study details a correlation between engineering strength and economic development and unveils the first ever ‘Engineering Index’.

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The global study was undertaken by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), published to coincide with a global gathering of engineering and international development leaders in London, the Engineering a Better World conference. The report brings together analysis and insight from a range of sources to paint a picture of global engineering: its workforce, output, prospective recruits, the quality of research and where its impacts are most needed.

The report, which was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering, also unveils the first ever ‘Engineering Index’, which ranks 99 countries by their engineering strength. Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands top the list, scoring well due to high employment in engineering, high average engineering wages, and good quality engineering infrastructure. 

The latest data shows that developing economies including Myanmar, Tunisia and Honduras lead the world in gender parity in engineering, with the highest proportion of female engineering graduates: 65, 42 and 41 percent respectively. This compares to only 22 percent in the UK (with just over 15,800 female graduates in engineering per year) and Australia and 21 percent in the Netherlands.


Engineering in the UK

The UK ranks 14th in the new Engineering Index. The UK’s position is thanks, in part, to the high annual salary commanded by UK engineers. 

The UK also outperforms almost all other nations with the quality of its educational institutions – with nine British university engineering departments making the UK Times Higher Education University Rankings top 100 list. Only the US beats the UK in this field, with 31 engineering departments in the top 100, of which four are in the top five.

However, the UK’s percentage of female engineers is far lower than other developed countries, with women only making up on a small fraction of the nation’s engineering graduates (22 percent). This compares to a European average of 28 percent; of the 34 European countries considered in the analysis, the UK only ranks 22nd in gender parity.


The size of the engineering workforce in the UK also compares less well to other countries, with latest data indicating that engineers only represent 0.7 percent of the UK population. This is less than half that of Finland (9th on the Index), where engineers make up 1.7 percent. In the UK, 53 percent of all engineering employers are currently seeking new recruits with engineering and technology skills, with the highest demand in the construction (67 percent of employers), electronics (61 percent) and aerospace (60 percent) sectors.

Data from the World Bank shows that UK GDP per capita was £27,100 in 2013. If the UK ranked 1st in the Engineering Index, UK GDP per capita would have increased by 10 percent to £29,900.  

Future hotspots: India and Vietnam

The report forecasts that India and Vietnam will be future engineering hotspots, namely countries where there will be great need for and growth in engineering. 

India appears 46th in the Engineering Index, as a result of the country’s relatively strong performance in gender parity and engineering research, offset by its relatively low quality of engineering infrastructure. 

India is tipped for growth in engineering strength as a result of the significant expansion of its urban population, which is predicted to increase by 500 million over the next 40 years, and forecast growth of India’s built asset wealth from $15 trillion in 2015 to $23 billion by 2025. India’s GDP is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 7.4 percent between 2016 and 2021, in comparison to the Chinese average of 5.3 percent a year. The report therefore predicts that India will go through its own version of the infrastructure and construction boom that continued for two decades and is now gradually easing in China, and that demand for engineering expertise and workers will rise in line with this boom.

Vietnam appears 38th in the Engineering Index as a result of its relatively strong performance in gender parity and engineering exports. Relative to the other countries in the Index with a similar GDP per capita and a similar level of investment per head, it scores highly for engineering strength, suggesting that it is already punching above its weight. The report finds that Vietnam’s high rates of GDP growth in recent years – stimulated in part by the major Doi Moi market-based economic reforms introduced by the Vietnamese government from the mid-1980s onwards – suggest that GDP per capita will continue to rise in line with its relatively high Engineering Index score. 

Gaps in global engineering data

The study was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering to understand the relationship between engineering and global economic development and to provide a worldwide comparison of potential growth in and need for engineering.  

One important finding from the research process was that there is a lack of consistent disaggregated data about engineering across the world, with no occupational breakdowns for engineering as a whole in many instances, and a significant lack of data for specific engineering disciplines. 

This data is essential, both to allow the engineering community to understand both the number of engineers needed for the future and the specific skill sets required, and to help policy makers make informed decisions that will help achieve sustainable growth. 

David Whitaker, Managing Economist at Cebr said “this is the first time a global study has looked holistically at the value of engineering and its role in economic development. The Engineering Index pulls together data from 99 countries to comprehensively map engineering today: its workforce, output, graduates, the quality of infrastructure and research, and where its impacts are most needed.

“Our analysis also shows that a one percentage point increase in a country’s score on the Engineering Index is associated with a 0.85 percent increase in GDP per capita, demonstrating a clear link between economic development and engineering strength.”

Dr Hayaatun Sillem, Deputy CEO & Director of Strategy at Royal Academy of Engineering commented, “engineers have historically played an important role in driving economic and social development, and continue to do so, by designing and delivering systems that facilitate education and healthcare, enhance quality of life, and help to eliminate global poverty. For the first time, this report shows that there is a direct link between engineering capability and economic development across the world.

“This report is a further step towards better understanding the world’s engineering capabilities and future demands for engineering, building on the collaborative work we do with professional engineering institutions, academic institutions and engineering businesses in the developing world to build capacity. It coincides with the Academy’s Engineering a Better World conference, where it formed the basis of useful discussions between the engineering and international development communities, not just about where engineering investment is needed, but also about how we can build on this data to develop a fuller picture of how engineering can further drive international development.” 

To find out more about the Engineering a Better World conference, please go to:

Listen to Bill Gates talking about the link between international developments and engineering (Video courtesy of the Royal Academy of Engineering)

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