China and the United States of America are two world superpowers are each other’s biggest competitors. Russia and India are not far behind in this competition. An interesting report – which we will delve into today – has taken this competition to a whole new level. This time the battlefield is the education sector and the artillery is human skills. According to the report, Stanford-led research has established that computer science undergraduates in the USA are way more skilled than their peers in China. The US computer science graduates have also left behind their peers in India and Russia.

An international group of scholars led by Prashant Loyalka of Graduate School of Education conducted a standardized exam based among undergraduate computer science seniors of USA, India, China and Russia. The exam aimed to measure the skills the students have developed as a result of their college curriculum and programme. The results were revealed in a paper – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – on March 18.

Loyalka says that the general perception of a university or college is never made based on the real-time skills acquired by the students. Loyalka’s study focuses on just that – the value being added to the students by the curriculum. Loyalka, also a center research fellow at the Rural Education Action Programme in the Freeman Spongli Institute for International Studies, says that the research conducted by him and his team has reiterated the common belief that higher education programmes in the USA are better than those in the rest of the world, at least in case of computer science.

The research was conducted with 678 students in China, 364 students in India, 551 students in Russia and 6, 847 students in the USA. These students were asked to take a 2-hour standardized test on Computer Science. The test was constructed aiming to find out how well the student taking it had learnt programming, algorithms, software engineering and other concepts of computer science. The test was created based on national and international guidelines.

It revealed that while students in India, China and Russia scored almost the same, without much substantial difference, an average American student scored better than 80% of the counterparts in the other three countries. The results were the same even when students of only the top institutions of the four countries were considered. On the other hand, if only the top students from Russia, China and India were considered, it was seen that they have scored at par with their American peers.

It is a common belief that international students studying in the US contribute to the great results and high standard of higher education in the country. Loyalka’s research results prove quite the opposite as its findings remain unchanged even if only domestic US students are taken into account.

This research forms part of a larger one that Loyalka has undertaken. It aims at comparing students’ skills in fields like science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Further research also aims to relate the skills learnt in higher education institutions of the four countries and their outcomes in the labour market. Loyalka and his collaborators will then look into ways that may bridge the gap between the outcomes. Loyalka says that his main aim is to find out which college experiences affect students’ performances directly. The research will surely throw light on higher education standards across the four countries and reveal ways of bettering them.