Presentation of the OEI’s report on Higher Education, Competitiveness and Productivity, 17 May 2021


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

Madrid, Spain, 17 May 2021

Dear Secretary General Jabonero, dear Minister González Laya, dear Enrique,

It is a pleasure to take part in the launch of the report by the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI) on Higher Education, Productivity and Competitiveness in Ibero-America. These are three of the greatest challenges facing all of Ibero-America, and all three are now an essential part of recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on health, society and the economy in all Ibero-American countries. LAC represents only 8.2% of the world's population but has accounted for 28% of all Covid-19 cases, and 34% of total deaths. And to date Andorra, Spain and Portugal account for almost 100,000 deaths (equivalent to 9.6% of deaths across the European Union).

The economic impact has also been enormous. According to estimates by the OECD Development Centre, Ibero-America's GDP shrank by 7.7% in 2020. And we estimate that the region will register growth of around 5% in 2021.

In Latin America, the pandemic has exacerbated an already complex situation. In addition to high informality, which affects more than half of all workers, and a high level of dissatisfaction with institutions among citizens, the region lags significantly behind in terms of labour productivity. In fact, the region's productivity is stagnating, currently representing only 38% of the productivity of OECD countries.

The report on Higher Education, Productivity and Competitiveness in Ibero-America concludes that there is a large and growing gap between the skills required by firms and the graduates produced by universities. This is consistent with the data provided by the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), in which Chile, Ecuador, Spain, Peru, Portugal and Mexico took part. The PIAAC analysis also argues that a greater mismatch of skills and qualifications is associated with lower labour productivity.

Improving the relevance and outcomes of this level of training will require a strategic vision, a common, cross-government approach, and the involvement of the entire higher education system. But I would like to highlight two dimensions in particular that are key to improving productivity in the region:

First, harnessing digital transformation. Our study on the Latin American Economic Outlook for 2020, which focuses on digital transformation in LAC, highlights the need to improve access to new technologies, but also to strengthen their use by boosting digital skills.

Universities and educational institutions can play an important role in accompanying society in this transition by adapting their educational and research offerings. This will be crucial, moreover, as leveraging the region's demographic dividend will depend in part on the younger generations possessing transversal skills and digital capabilities.

And second, higher education institutions have a key role to play in fostering young people's entrepreneurial spirit. An entrepreneurial spirit that enables them to embark on projects, take risks, manage uncertainty, be creative, and transform innovative ideas into sustainable solutions. In this respect, the OECD has joined forces with the European Commission to develop HEInnovate, a "Joint Guiding Framework" that allows higher education institutions to self-assess their strategies and practices in promoting entrepreneurship.

Similarly, the OECD, the IDB and Santander University are going to prepare a joint study that will explore in detail the role of ten Latin American universities within their productive ecosystems, with an emphasis on their capacities to sustain entrepreneurship, innovation and digitalisation. The study will be published in 2022 and we will present it at a high-level event, which we would be honoured if representatives of the OEI could attend.

Dear friends,

We have to do everything in our power to prevent our young people from being among the main victims of the Covid-19 crisis, and to enable them to become a prime force in the reconstruction of Ibero-America; a resilient, inclusive and sustainable Ibero-America; an integrated, united and strong Ibero-America.

We must ensure that they have the education, the expertise, the skills and the abilities to accomplish this task. This is an area in which the OECD is working hard, and in which Ibero-America needs to deepen its co-operation.

Let us join forces. Let us support Ibero-America together to design, develop and implement better policies for better lives.

Thank you.


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