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OECD: Economic downturn will further boost student numbers

The OECD has released at the beginning of September its annual collection of data on education – the Education at a Glance 2009. One of the main findings, based on pre-crisis data from 2007, is that growing advantages for the highly educated and continuing high levels of unemployment will provide a strong incentive for staying in higher education. Some of the report’s main findings related to higher education include the following:

  • The number of people with university degrees or other tertiary qualifications has risen on average in OECD countries by 4.5 percent each year, between 1998 and 2006, with some countries, like Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Spain reaching 7 percent increases per year. In 2007, one in three people in OECD countries aged between 25 and 34 had a tertiary level qualification. In Canada, Japan and Korea, the ratio was one in two.
  • Going to university pays dividends in later life through higher salaries, better health and less vulnerability to unemployment. In most countries, the difference in pay levels between people who have degrees and people who do not is continuing to grow, despite the increasing number of graduates. The highest earning advantages can be found in the US, Italy and Portugal.
  • Interestingly – though perhaps somewhat trivially - people who complete high-school education tend to enjoy better health than those who quit at the minimum leaving age. People with university degrees are apparently in addition more interested in politics and more trusting of other people.

But it is not all good news. While in most countries, the number of people who leave school at the minimum leaving age is falling, in Germany, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Turkey and the United States their numbers continue to rise. Young people who leave school at the minimum leaving age without a job are likely to spend a long time out of work. In most countries over half of the low-qualified unemployed 25-34 year-olds are long-term unemployed. This is a clear risk area that needs to be seriously addressed.