The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation (OECD) has launched its 2019 Indicators Report, Education at a Glance.
Countries across the globe, both developed and developing, are facing a huge challenge to keep pace with socio-economic challenges not to mention technological advances and the depletion of natural resources. Tertiary education plays a central role in helping societies deal with these challenges by transferring and nurturing knowledge.
Information has never been more readily available to so many and so quickly, meaning industry (and governments) are struggling to keep up with the pace. Whilst many new opportunities for growth are created, skills are still at a premium - creating ferocious competition. Governments, naturally (where able), have expanded the access to education and learning via financial support and the traditional linear route is slowly eroded in favour of a lifelong learning model (globally speaking).
Ensuring the right supply of skills is another enormous challenge. Of those new entrants on to bachelors programmes, less than 15% study engineering, manufacturing and building but most startling, less than 5% study ICT - even though these fields are technological progress and have the best labour-market outcomes.
- Demand for tertiary education is still strong despite a larger supply of graduates
In 2018, 44% of 25-34 year-olds held a tertiary degree, compared to 35% in 2008, on average across OECD countries. Those with bachelor's degrees have contributed most to this growth. Tertiary-educated adults are more resilient against long-term unemployment and earn more as a result. As they age, their earnings potential rises to 38% (25-34 year-olds), then to 70% (45-54 year-olds) compared to those without a tertiary degree.
- Education systems have facilitated access to tertiary education yet some gaps remain
Financial support is making tertiary education even more attractive. More than 70% of students take out loans or receive grants where tuition fees are high (e.g. UK & U.S.) Engineering, manufacturing, construction, and ICT are two fields most commonly associated with the best labour market outcomes, only 14% of graduates earned a degree in the former and 4% earned a degree in the latter in 2017. Women are particularly under-represented: less than 25% of entrants into these fields are women, on average across OECD countries.
- Transitions from upper secondary education and tertiary admissions systems influence progression through education
More than 40% of 19-20 year-olds in nearly half of OECD countries are enrolled in tertiary programmes. 17% of first-time entrants into tertiary education enter a short-cycle programme compared to 76% who enter at the bachelor’s level and 7% at the master’s level. However, an average of 12% of bachelor’s degree students have left the tertiary education system before the second year of study. Only 39% of students at the bachelor’s programme level graduate within the duration of their programmes.
- Increased funding has sustained the expansion of tertiary education
Between 2005 and 2016, spending on tertiary institutions increased by 28% but this has slowed somewhat since 2010. In 2016, expenditure per tertiary student amounted to around £12.5k, approximately one-third of which was devoted to R&D. While private sources financed more than 30% of the expenditure, on average, tuition fees for bachelor programmes increased by more than 20% between 2007 and 2017 in half of the countries with data.
- Graduation rates from upper secondary education have increased over the past decade
Although graduation from upper secondary education increased by 6% between 2005 and 2017, 15% of 25-34 year-olds did not attain upper secondary education in 2018, on average across OECD countries. In some countries, vocational programmes are prominent at the upper secondary level. On average across OECD countries, 40% of first-time upper secondary graduates earned a vocational qualification in 2017.
- The teaching profession still struggles to attract new recruits
In most OECD countries, the share of primary and secondary teachers among 50-59 year-olds is larger than the share among 25-34 year-olds, which raises concerns about future teacher shortages. About 10% of primary and secondary teachers are under the age of 30. Salaries tend to increase with the level of education taught, but teachers’ earnings remain between 78% and 93% of the earnings of other tertiary-educated adults. By contrast, school heads earn at least 25% more than their tertiary-educated peers. The number of teaching hours per year decreases as the level of education increases.
Summing up, OECD Secretary-General, Angel Gurría explains that "Tertiary education admissions systems are pivotal in ensuring that upper secondary students make a smooth transition to tertiary education." Over 50% of countries have open admissions but some use more selective criteria i.e. academic performance. The later should ensure completion rates remain higher but research shows that this isn't the case.
We are reminded of the importance of equal access to quality education and lifelong learning opportunities and we must acknowledge that there are many paths toward relevant (and valuable) skills acquisition. In 2018, the share of young adults with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary qualification, 41%, is almost equal to the share attaining tertiary education, 44%.
Gurría ends by saying "It is also our responsibility to make a broad range of pathways attractive to students and equip them with the skills to navigate through an unpredictable and changing world. To achieve this, we must expand opportunities, broaden the options of programmes and qualifications, and build stronger bridges with the labour market. This also means investing in student orientation and guidance so that each student finds his or her place in society and can contribute to his or her full potential. Only then will students be able to acquire the knowledge that can carry them forward, the kind of knowledge that can change their lives."
To view the entire OECD report, click on the button below.