Institute of Education

Research & Expertise to Make a Difference in Education & Beyond

Researchers Measure Undergraduate Grasp of Computer Science in U.S., Russia, India and China

An international research team involving IOE has reported findings from a large-scale project that benchmarks the learning outcomes among senior students of Computer Science (CS) at U.S., Indian, Chinese and Russian universities. Based on a unique testing methodology developed by ETS, the study finds that U.S. undergraduates have substantially stronger ability across dimensions of the CS curriculum than their peers from India, China and Russia. The paper has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.       

“Recent years have seen a steady expansion in global demand for qualified ICT professionals. However, there has so far been little research to plausibly judge about the quality of IT training across nations. This new study marks an important contribution to building up our understanding about the level of skills and competencies that students of CS majors develop in the U.S., Russia, China and India. Our focus on these four nations stems from the fact that they have been ploughing heavily in comprehensive digital transformations and IT development. Today, these four superpowers altogether account for roughly half of CS graduates worldwide,” Head of IOE and one of the study coauthors, Dr. Isak Froumin notes.             

For every country, representative student samples have been compiled that involved CS seniors from a vast range of universities, including HEIs that hold leading positions in both national and global rankings. Overall, the study has spanned 229 HEIs in the U.S., 36 HEIs in China, 34 HEIs in Russia, and 15 HEIs in India. To test CS undergraduates in China and Russia, the Chinese- and Russian-language adaptations of the original English worksheets have been developed.     

Students in all of the participant nations were given a standardized two-hour test that was designed specifically for this study by Educational Testing Service (ETS), the world’s leading vendor of evaluation tools in education. The testing methodology aimed to provide an all-round assessment of student grasp of various components in the CS curriculum, such as discrete structures, algorithms, programming, software engineering, IT management, etc.   

The study has found U.S. undergraduates to substantially outperform their Russian, Indian and Chinese counterparts in all areas of the CS curriculum covered by the ETS methodology. An average U.S. senior enrolled in a CS track scored higher than 80% of their peers in the other three nations. At that, how scores vary among student cohorts from Russia, India and China is statistically insignificant, which testifies to roughly equal levels of ICT skills observed in CS undergraduates from these nations.      

Male students have been identified to demonstrate stronger mastery of Computer Science than female students. Notably, skill levels in U.S. female students of CS surpass those recorded in their Russian, Indian and Chinese counterparts of both sexes.   

Whether an undergraduate cohort exhibits higher educational attainment in CS appears to be closely linked with the quality of training offered and students’ entry ability. It should be noted that the U.S., Russia, India and China largely differ in terms of demand for CS majors among high school leavers. “However, although CS freshmen at Russian HEIs are likely to show STEM skills lower than those found in their Chinese peers, the situation tends to even out as students progress along the university course so that both national groups ultimately display comparable levels of educational attainment in ICT upon completion. Now that we’ve got a general idea of how national contexts differ by undergraduate attainment in CS, this poses a host of new and more nuanced questions, so it would be expedient to first look into what specific factors are involved in such outcomes,” HSE Professor and Senior Researcher at UC Berkeley, Dr. Igor Chirikov comments. 

Read more about the study: