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“Investing in the future” – OECD education data 2010

In line with tradition, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released at the beginning of September its annual collection of data on education - Education at a Glance 2010. The publication draws on data jointly collected with two other organisations, EUROSTAT and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), and covers 35 countries, of which 21 are EU member states. It looks at a wide variety of indicators grouped under four thematic areas, namely educational outputs and the impact of learning; investments in education; access, participation and progression; and issues having to do with learning environments and institutional organisation. Some of the main findings related to higher education include:

  • Enrolment: For the large majority of countries that provided data, the enrolment rate for 15-19 year-olds and 20-29 year-olds has stagnated for the past three years, possibly suggesting that a saturation level has been reached. The OECD average is still 82% for 15-19 year-olds and  25% for 20-29 year-olds; Poland performs best for the first age group (at 93%) and Finland for the second (43%).

  • Graduation: On average, 35% of 25-34 year-olds in OECD countries attain higher education (up from 34% last year), in contrast to only 20% of the 55-64 age group. Growth of graduation rates varies widely across countries, though; e.g. Finland (63%) now ranks first in type-5A programmes (having moved from rank 11 since 1995), while countries like the US seem to be moving down the ladder from first now to 14th (at 37%). The OECD graduation average (for all age groups) is at 38% in 2008, the same level as last year.

  • Mobility: The total number of students that study outside their country of origin increased by 10.7% compared to 2007, reaching 3.3 million mobile students worldwide in 2008. European countries together still attract about half of this cohort. Looking at individual countries and their worldwide market positioning, the shares of the top 5 destination countries (US, UK, Germany, France and Australia) continue to drop, the decrease being steeper for the first four. Interestingly, if one looks at mobile/foreign students as a percentage of total enrolment, Austria (at 15.5 %) now comes in second after Australia (20.6%), moving from 5th position in 2007.

  • Returns: Higher education appears to increase employability. While university or equivalent degree graduates were not exempt from the effects of the economic downturn, the increase in their unemployment rates were lower than that of the broader population.

Overall the report emphasises the need for governments to support their education systems to facilitate growth and reduce unemployment levels.  However, as the 2010 report provides analysis for data from 2008, the effects of the financial crisis will be certainly more visible in the forthcoming editions of this publication.

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