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GLOBAL COMPETITIVENESS: United States Moves Up in Global Competitiveness Rankings, but Continues to Fare Relatively Poorly in Several International Education Rankings

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According to the "The Global Competitiveness Report 2014–2015," overall, the world is “finally emerging from the worst financial and economic crisis of the past eighty years and returning to a pre-crisis situation.”

The United States moved up two spots from five to three in the World Economic Forum’s 2014–2015 global competitiveness rankings but fared relatively poorly in several education indicators, including the quality of math and science education and overall quality of its education system. The rankings are contained in The Global Competitiveness Report 2014–2015, an annual report from the Forum that highlights key factors that determine economic growth and examines the level of present and future prosperity in 144 countries around the globe.

At the heart of the report is the Forum’s global competitiveness index, which is a weighted average of many different components grouped into twelve “pillars” of competitiveness (see table below). It contains a detailed profile for each country, as well as an extensive section of data tables with global rankings covering more than 100 indicators. For the sixth consecutive year, Switzerland ranks first while Singapore ranks second. The top ten countries are in the table below.

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Since ranking seventh in 2012, the United States has steadily climbed the rankings, placing fifth last year and third this year. The report credits the rise in the U.S. ranking to improvements in a number of areas, including institutional framework (government, legal, business, etc.), more positive perceptions regarding business sophistication, and innovation. The United States’s ranking in each of the twelve pillars is shown in the table below.

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“U.S. companies are highly sophisticated and innovative, and they are supported by an excellent university system that collaborates admirably with the business sector in research and development,” the report notes. “Combined with flexible labor markets and the scale opportunities afforded by the sheer size of its domestic economy—the largest in the world by far—these qualities make the United States very competitive.”

Included in the Forum’s twelve pillars are two measurements of U.S. education—health and primary education (ranking forty-ninth) and higher education and training (ranking seventh). Within the health and primary education pillar, the United States fares poorly on specific indicators, ranking thirty-sixth in quality of primary education and ninetieth in primary education enrollment. Within higher education and training, which is based on secondary and tertiary enrollment rates plus the quality of education as evaluated by business leaders, the United States ranks third in tertiary education enrollment but ranks fifty-ninth in secondary education enrollment and fifty-first in quality of math and science education. Overall, the quality of the United States education system ranks twenty-seventh out of 144 countries.

The report identifies several other weaknesses where the United States can improve, specifically citing trust in politicians (ranking forty-eighth), favoritism of government officials (ranking forty-seventh) and a “general perception” that the government spends its resources relatively wastefully (ranking seventy-third). The report cites the U.S. macroeconomic environment (113th), which includes a budget deficit, low savings, and high level of debt, as the nation’s greatest area of weakness but notes that the U.S. fiscal deficit continues to narrow and its public debt is slightly lower.

Overall, the report notes that the world is “finally emerging from the worst financial and economic crisis of the past eighty years and returning to a pre-crisis situation.” Growth prospects in advanced economies are better than in recent years but very unevenly distributed. At the same time, the report notes that now is no time to be complacent and stresses that risks to the global economic outlook remain “very real.” It largely attributes the improvement of the global economic outlook to “bold monetary policies” but adds that ensuring sustained growth in the future will depend on boosting the level of productivity of economies through smart investments in skills and innovation rather than monetary policy.

The Global Competitiveness Report 2014–2015 is available at http://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-report-2014-2015/.

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