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Education at a Glance 2012 (OECD) – investing in education does pay off

On 11 September, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the 2012 edition of its Education at a Glance report – a mega collection of education statistics. The current edition of this annual publication covers, on more than 500 pages, all levels of education, from early childhood to higher education, including indicators on public and private spending on education, tuition fees, adult participation in education, class sizes, teacher salaries and decision-making powers of schools, analysis of national exam systems and criteria for attending tertiary education. The report provides data on 34 OECD countries, of which 21 are member states of the European Union (EU), plus eight other countries, including the BRICS, i.e. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The six EU member states not covered in this report are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Romania, as they are not members of the OECD. The reference year of the report is 2010 (i.e. the school year 2009/10).

From amongst the multitude of aspects and related trends covered by the report, we’d like to highlight two, namely the findings related to the return on education investment and to international student mobility.

The financial return on tertiary education continues to grow, says the OECD, both at individual and country level. Overall, the unemployment rate in 2010 was roughly one third less for men with higher education attainment than for men with upper secondary education, and two-fifths less for women, across the OECD countries (average value).  At individual level, the income gap between the two groups has widened during the economic crisis. If in 2008 a man with a tertiary education degree was expected to earn 58% more than one with secondary level education – 54% more for women – in 2010, the gap had increased to 67% and 59% respectively. Countries are also expected to derive long-term benefits from investing in more higher education. The report shows that, on average, the OECD countries get a net return above USD 100 000 for each man with tertiary education (in increased income tax and other savings), i.e. four times more than the investment, while for women the return rate is 2.5 times.

Regarding the international mobility of university students, the OECD estimates that in 2010, the total number of students enrolled towards a degree outside their country of nationality stood at approximately 4.1 million, out of a total of 177 million students enrolled in formal tertiary level education around the world, and up from 3.7 million in 2009. Yet, while the total number of internationally-mobile students has almost doubled since the early 2000s (when the number was 2.1 million), so has participation in higher education. As a result, the participation rate in degree mobility around the globe remains more or less constant, at just above 2% (2.3% to be more precise) of the world student population. As expected, the 2010 data continue to show a decline in the market shares of traditional destination countries of foreign students like the US (at 17%, from 18% the previous year) as well as Germany and France (both at 6% from 7% previously). At the same time, the market share of the United Kingdom seems to have increased, from 10% to 13% in only one year, while Australia remains stable, at 7%. The EU countries covered in the report host together 41% of this internationally-mobile cohort. About 2 of the 4.1 million students have the nationality of an Asian country, China, India and Korea continuing to be the largest source countries.

OECD – Education at a Glance 2012