Education spending rising but access to higher education remains unequal

Published on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 07:48
Posted by Scott Buckler

Governments should increase investment in early childhood programmes and maintain reasonable costs for higher education in order to reduce inequality, boost social mobility and improve people's employment prospects, according to a new OECD report

Education at a Glance 2012 reveals stark differences between countries in the opportunities they offer young people to enter higher education, notably for children of poor families or whose parents have had a limited education.

"Countries need an increasingly educated and skilled workforce to succeed in today's knowledge economy," said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. "Investing from an early age is crucial to lay the foundations of later success. High quality education and skills have to be among the number one priorities for governments, for economies and for societies. Supporting the poorest and ensuring equal access is another important pillar in an inclusive education policy strategy."

Australia, Finland, Ireland and Sweden have the highest success rates in the OECD for young people with poorly-educated parents attaining a tertiary degree. But in Italy, Portugal, Turkey and the United States, more than 40% of young people from low educational backgrounds have not completed upper secondary education, and less than 20% have attained tertiary qualifications.

Enrolling children early in formal education and keeping schools mixed in terms of social backgrounds have more impact in boosting educational equality than other factors, such as parental support or the cost of tuition fees. Addressing inequality early is key as little can be done to remedy poor outcomes later in school, without compromising the quality of higher education, says the OECD.

Enrolment in early childhood education has risen over the past few years, from 64% of 3-year-olds in 2005 to 69% in 2010, and from 77% of 4-year-olds to 81% in 2010. Starting school at an early age pays off in the long run: OECD's PISA tests of 15-year-olds show that, in most countries, pupils who have attended pre-primary education tend to perform better than those who have not. It also shows that longer pre-primary education, smaller pupil-to-teacher ratios and higher public expenditure per child all enhance the positive effects of pre-primary schooling.

New data also reveal the importance of a good education for social mobility and access to good, well-paid jobs. The earnings gap and employment rate between people with higher education and the less educated continued to rise during the global recession. A 25-64 year-old man with higher education earned 67% more in 2010 than one with upper secondary education, up from 58% in 2008. For women, the earnings premium grew to 59% in 2010 from 54% in 2008

The unemployment rate in 2010 was roughly one-third less for men with higher education than for men with upper secondary. For women, it was two-fifths less.

Countries gain long-term economic and social benefits from investing more in education, the report notes. On average, OECD countries receive a net return of over USD 100 000 in increased income tax and other savings for each man in higher education, almost 4 times their investment. For women the return is 2.5 times.

Well-educated people also live longer, are more likely to vote and have more supportive attitudes to equal rights for minorities, according to new data and analysis in this year's edition.

Public and private spending on education continued to rise, even during the economic downturn. Between 2008 and 2009, total investment - by governments, enterprises and individuals - increased in 24 out of 31 OECD countries for which data are available. But while public spending on education as a percentage of total public expenditure remained at 13% on average across the OECD in both 2005 and 2009, it fell in 19 out of 32 countries over that period.

Private funding, mainly from households, represents on average 30% of total expenditure on tertiary education. This proportion ranges from less than 5% in Denmark, Finland and Norway, to more than 40% in Australia, Israel, Japan and the United States, and to over 70% in Chile, Korea and the United Kingdom.

The increasing costs of entry to higher education for many families may impede countries' own goals of increasing educational attainment in their populations, warns the OECD.

Education at a Glance provides comparable national statistics about education for the 34 OECD member countries, as well as Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

This year's report includes indicators on public and private spending on education, tuition fees, adult participation in education, class sizes, teacher salaries and decision-making powers of schools, and analysis of national exam systems and the criteria for attending tertiary education.

Source: ©OECD

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