US computer science graduates outperform global rivals in tests

Cross-national study compared final-year undergraduates in US, India, China and Russia

March 19, 2019
Computer programming

Final-year computer science students in US universities appear to have much higher skill levels in the subject than their counterparts in China, India and Russia, a cross-national study has suggested.

Results from a standard test of computing skills taken by hundreds of students in each country showed that on average those from the US got higher marks than learners in the other countries.

The study, involving scholars from all four nations, also suggests that the effect cannot be explained by the US tending to have more international students.

Meanwhile, the test scores also showed a moderately higher result for male students than female undergraduates in their final year of courses.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tested students on comparable computer science courses in each country on range of fundamental concepts and knowledge related to the subject.

According to the results, the differences in average score between the students in China, India and Russia were small, but the US students showed “much higher levels of [computer science] skills”.

Results for students deemed to be on “elite programmes” in China, India and Russia were higher but were still lower than the overall average for the US. Students on elite US programmes achieved the highest scores by a significant margin.

The paper says that the “substantial advantage” enjoyed by US computer science students “is not driven by the presence of international students” as it found no significant difference in the scores when allowing for their presence in the sample.

Co-author Prashant Loyalka, an assistant professor in Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, said that he was surprised by the results, especially when school achievement data indicated that US students “likely had significantly lower levels of math[s] and science achievement scores at the start of college”.

Meanwhile, the paper also found that there were “consistent but moderate differences” in the results between male and female students. Across all the countries, men achieved higher scores on average, although the paper notes that the gender gaps were “generally smaller” than the skill gaps between countries and types of institution.

“The gender gap in skills does indicate that more effort is needed to attract higher-achieving female students into [computer science] and ensure that they have equal opportunities to receive a quality education,” it adds.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: In computer science, US graduates have global edge

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