Increase In Demand For STEM Courses Despite Potential Recession

Despite recent news about tech layoffs, courses in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) still provide students with greater employment opportunities and earning potential after graduation

2022 has been a remarkable year for students who previously had to put off their plans to pursue their master’s or bachelor’s degrees abroad. This year, studying abroad has seen an exponential increase in the number of students securing a visa to travel for higher education. One major observation for 2023 is the increase in the demand for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-based courses despite talks of a looming recession. 

In the last nine months, there have been numerous discussions surrounding the sudden and increased layoffs in the tech space. Many employees of global tech giants faced layoffs due to various factors, including impacts on the company’s growth forecasts, geo-political and economic crises, right-sizing of employees due to process automation and the slowdown in industrial economics. Despite talks and trends of an impending recession, the demand for higher education graduates majoring in STEM continues to grow. 

There are various factors that are driving the demand for STEM-based courses:

- STEM salaries are increasingly competitive, in some cases exceeding the salaries of other courses – including MBA programmes. 

- Universities have also found creativity in developing programmes that are essentially STEM, but significantly support education related to core business aspects. There is also a shift in the trend for MBA programmes. While they remain lucrative, MBAs are typically among the most expensive degrees offered at a university. Students are increasingly evaluating one-year MBAs to reduce tuition and career-opportunity costs over a two-year MBA (though these do not cost half the price as one might expect). Additionally, MBA-adjacent programmes, such as a Master’s in Finance or a Master’s in Management Science, have also seen a growth in demand. Not only are these programmes generally more targeted than MBA programs, but they are relatively more affordable and may come with US STEM accreditation, thus providing immigration benefits for students after graduation. 

- STEM courses can offer better support in visa approvals in US, as STEM students can stay in US on Optional Practical Training (OPT) for three years, compared to one year for other programs. Immigration and work-based visas in several countries offer a higher weight during approval for a STEM degree compared to other programs, especially as they work to develop technical knowledge and expertise within their country.  

- STEM is increasingly penetrating more and more industries through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics, mathematical modeling, embedded systems and other engineering tools and systems, which is driving higher demand for STEM talent.

- The higher education sector commonly sees growth when markets and businesses are in a recessionary slump. There is a two-fold logic here:

- Career growth slows down, salary growth suffers, bonuses are impacted, and layoffs often occur, thus making it an ideal time to upskill and look to qualify for better opportunities.

- For the ‘visionaries,’ this can be an opportune time to attend school and wait for positive market movement, instead of being a part of the stress and anxiety that follows a recession.

In India especially, despite the talk of recession, research shows that the IT (information technology) and ITES (Information Technology and Enabled Services) sector is expected to grow 8-10 per cent, an additional reason for STEM demand.

That being said, whether a student majors in STEM or not, overseas education is an expensive investment – typically financed by savings, scholarships and loans. One crucial aspect to consider when deciding where to pursue a degree is the ratio of the expected salary to the total cost of education. The 'return on investment' one can expect will help ensure one makes the right decision for their future financial health post-studies. 

In case students are aspiring to pursue their studies in the US or Canada, they should opt for dollar-denominated loans, at lower interest rates than repaying high-interest loans in the currency of their home country, thus building credit history in the US/Canada. A good credit history would enable the student to start their new life as a professional with financial benefits. A dollar denominated loan would save the student from paying extra as INR fluctuates and with the recent hike in the repo rate which is bound to rise again, a fixed interest rate would be an added advantage for any student who is planning to study abroad. 

Therefore, despite talks about the recession in the tech space, STEM courses still offer students high employability and better options to stay back overseas, which could help students start and build a new life in another country. 

Despite recent news about tech layoffs, courses in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) still provide students with greater employment opportunities and earning potential after graduation. They tend to be safer courses for students, regardless of whether their intentions are to stay abroad or return home after graduation. Students who value future optionality in terms of employment and immigration should explore STEM degrees.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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