OECD calls for broader access to post-school education and training


13/09/2005 -  People are facing growing pressures to go on developing skills and knowledge over their working life-time as job mobility increases and job tasks become more complex, and governments in many countries need to do more to foster education and training at all stages of people’s lives, according to the latest edition of the OECD's annual Education at a Glance.

Education is a gateway to employment, and in almost all OECD countries, educational attainment levels continue to rise. On average, three quarters of people born in the 1970s have gone all the way through secondary school, now the essential baseline qualification for successful entry into the labour market, compared with only half of those born in the 1940s.

But education and training are also crucial for maintaining and improving people’s employability. Despite politicians’ promises, adult training opportunities still seem to be skewed more towards the better-skilled and those who already have jobs than towards people looking for work.

What is more, OECD studies show that the earnings gap between the better-educated and those with lower qualifications is growing rather than shrinking. In all OECD countries, people without upper secondary education face a significantly higher, and growing, risk of unemployment. On average, 15% of 20-to-24-year-olds in OECD countries without upper secondary qualifications are unemployed, double the rate of those who have completed secondary school.

The statistics in Education at a Glance provide governments with a basis for policy debate and decisions. In recent years, some countries have shown spectacular improvements in schooling performance. In Korea, for example, a striking 97%, of people born in the 1970s have completed upper secondary education, putting Korea in top place for this age group ahead of Norway with 95% and Japan and the Slovak Republic with 94%. By comparison, only 32% of Koreans born in the 1940s have upper secondary qualifications, leaving Korea trailing 24th out of the 30 OECD countries in this age group.  Portugal, starting from a much lower base, has raised the proportion of its citizens with upper secondary qualifications from only 10% of those born in the 1940s to 37% of those born in the 1970s.

More people in OECD countries are also completing university-level education, although the pattern is very uneven with growth in overall numbers of graduates mainly due to increases in a few countries with flexible degree structures.

Women now account for 57% of university-level graduates, although mainly in the humanities, health and welfare. The share of women graduates remains at 30% or below in mathematics, computer science, engineering, manufacturing and construction, and gender differences with regard to future studying intentions are often already clearly visible in the performance and attitudes of 15-year-olds. 

Rising tertiary education levels do not appear to have had a negative effect on the labour-market value of these qualifications. The returns to both individuals and society from investments in university education are positive and often large, both in financial terms as well as in terms of broader economic and social outcomes, such as increased labour productivity and better mental and physical health. The earnings premium for people with tertiary education, as opposed to those with only secondary education, grew further between 1997 and 2003 in all but four of the 22 OECD countries with available data, on average by one percentage point each year. (This earnings premium ranges from around 25% in Denmark and New Zealand to between 50% and 119% in the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.)

Initial education alone is not enough to meet the rising and changing demand for skills, however. In countries like Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States, more than 40% of people in the labour force now take part in non-formal job-related education and training each year. By contrast, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal and Spain provide such training to fewer than 10% of employees.

What is more, while post-school education and training opportunities are generally as accessible to women as to men, they remain less frequent for those who need them most, such as the unemployed or people in low-skilled jobs. Participation rates for those who have not completed upper secondary education are less than half of those with upper secondary education and only around a quarter of those with tertiary education.

In all OECD countries, too, employees in upper-tier service industries are more likely to get training than those working in other sectors. More generally, adult education and training are more common in large firms, the public sector and in sectors such as business services, banking or finance; usually for full-time or established workers in a firm; more prevalent for management and senior posts than for non-executive or unskilled jobs; more frequent for young and mid-career workers than for older workers; and likely to increase in line with an individual’s initial level of qualifications. More worrying still, are the sizeable proportions of young people with low levels of education who are neither in work or education.  In France, Italy, Mexico, the Slovak republic and Turkey, more than 10% of 15-19 year olds are in this situation.

OECD countries now spend an average of USD 7,343 per student per year between primary and tertiary education, but this masks a broad range of expenditure across countries. Switzerland and the U.S. spend the most, with average annual outlays per student of more than USD 11,000. At the other end of the scale, Mexico and the Slovak Republic spend around USD 2,000 per student per year. The drivers of expenditure per student vary across countries: among the five countries with the highest expenditure per student, Switzerland and the United States are two of the countries with the highest teachers’ salaries at secondary level of education whereas Austria, Denmark and Norway are among the countries with the lowest student to teaching staff ratio. 

Spending is not necessarily a guarantee of higher quality in terms of education, though: Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands and New Zealand all have moderate expenditure on education per student at the primary and lower secondary levels but are among the countries where 15-year-olds perform strongest in key subject areas.

In many countries, too, the ways in which the costs of education are shared between public and private stakeholders are changing, with tertiary institutions in many countries now relying more heavily on private sources of funding such as fees than they did in the mid-1990s. Nevertheless, the public and private shares in the funding of education are often still not in line with the public and private benefits. Most notably in Denmark, Norway, Germany, Austria and Finland, private sources contribute a much larger share of the costs of early childhood education and care than for tertiary education, where the private benefits dominate.

Education at a Glance 2005 is available to journalists on the OECD's password-protected website.  For further information, journalists are invited to contact the OECD's Media Relations Division (tel. [33] 1 45 24 97 00). 

Subscribers and readers at subscribing institutions can access the online edition via SourceOECD, our online library. Non-subscribers can purchase the PDF e-book and/or paper copy via our Online Bookshop.

Further information on Education at a Glance 2005 can be found at , as can country chapters on (France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States).