Launch of OECD 2015 Education at a Glance


Remarks by Angel Gurría, 

OECD Secretary-General

Paris, 24 November 2015

(As prepared for delivery)

Mesdames et Messieurs

Permettez-moi de commencer ce discours en français, et de rappeler le choc, l’immense tristesse, et le sentiment de colère suscités par les attentats du 13 novembre à Paris et la destruction de nombreuses vies innocentes.

L’OCDE se tient aux côtés du Gouvernement français dans cette épreuve effroyablement difficile. Je souhaite aussi réitérer, encore une fois, le soutien sans failles de l’OCDE au Gouvernement français et à l’ensemble de la communauté internationale dans la lutte contre le terrorisme. La liberté d’être et de penser, le respect de l’autre, la prise en compte des avis et opinions de chacun, sont les fondements de nos démocraties et de notre culture.

Nous redoublerons d’efforts pour que nos travaux sur les politiques publiques - notamment sur la lutte contre la corruption et les flux financiers illicites, l’immigration, les compétences, le bien-être, la croissance inclusive - en renforcent le socle.

Et puisque l’objet de cette conférence de presse est le lancement de Regards sur l’éducation 2015, permettez-moi de souligner qu’en sus des politiques de sécurité cruciales dans l’immédiat, des politiques publiques des pays en voie de développement, des luttes contre les inégalités, nous continuons à être convaincus de l’importance des politiques d’éducation pour favoriser un monde dans lequel on dépasse la violence pour poursuivre ses rêves et changer la société de façon constructive et positive.

It is with this commitment to vigorously continue to promote better education for all that we launch our flagship publication Education at a Glance 2015, which turns 25 this year.

Education at a Glance at 25: Education has expanded and evolved

Over these years, interest in international comparisons on education has grown enormously. Twenty-five years ago, many countries considered education to be too local, too tied to its specific context, to lend itself to international comparison. But important progress in statistical techniques, and in data collection and processing has allowed the OECD to improve and expand its comparative statistical work, providing a solid basis for international benchmarking in education.

Over a quarter of a century, Education at a Glance has documented the speed at which education systems have expanded and evolved. When the first edition of the report was published, tertiary education was still the preserve of a small minority. Now, around 41% of 25-34 year-olds in OECD countries (about 25% in Italy, Mexico and Turkey, and 68% in Korea) leave the education system with at least a tertiary degree, and more than half of them have parents who did not attain tertiary education. 

Education is also becoming increasingly international. The number of students enrolled outside their country of citizenship has risen dramatically, from 1.7 million in 1995 to more than 4.5 million worldwide). On average across OECD countries 24% of students enrolled in doctoral programmes are international students. It is increasingly clear that education systems and policies can no longer be measured against domestic benchmarks. These are positive developments. However, our study also identifies a series of key challenges which policymakers have to address.

New challenges: Reducing inequalities and financing education

One: how to overcome educational inequality and provide high-quality education opportunities to all. And Two: how to finance this expansion – and improve efficiency – in an age of shrinking budgets. It’s about doing more with less.

The stakes could not be higher. Lack of a quality education is the most powerful form of social exclusion, preventing people from benefitting from economic growth and social progress.

But the dream of “quality education for all” is still far off. Inequalities persist in education, carrying severe consequences for labour markets and economies. In 2014, less than 60% of adults without an upper secondary education were employed, compared to over 80% of tertiary-educated adults. Educational inequalities also affect earnings. Tertiary-educated adults earn about 60% more, on average, than adults with upper secondary as their highest level of educational attainment.

These inequalities are particularly strong among our immigrant communities. In the EU for example, the youth unemployment rate among native-born-children of immigrants is almost 50% higher than among the young with native-born parents.

There can be no doubt that in the labour market and in life, education is worth the effort. But governments face challenges in financing education. The education sector felt a delayed blow from the global economic crisis of 2008. Between 2010 and 2012, as GDP began to rise again, public expenditure on educational institutions fell in more than one in three OECD countries.

There is considerable debate on how to fill this funding gap. Our analysis suggests that part of the answer lies in establishing innovative financing and student-support policies that mobilise additional public and private funding in ways that better reflect the social and personal financial returns of tertiary education. Many countries are moving in this direction: the average share of private funding for tertiary institutions increased from 31% in 2000 to 36% in 2012 in the 20 countries with available data for both years.

The large disparity in countries’ approaches to financing education carries with it an opportunity to learn from one another and the OECD is ready and able to support these efforts, including here in France, our host country.

France is at a turning point

As I mentioned to Minister Vallaud-Belkacem when she visited the OECD over the summer, France is at a turning point. Reform is needed to make education more inclusive. The reforms undertaken are heading in the right direction, but success depends on how they are implemented and evaluated.

French education has many positives to build on. For example, over the past 40 years, France has caught up with many OECD countries in terms of the educational attainment of its population. Enrolment in early childhood education is nearly universal for 3-year-olds in France, a particularly positive fact, especially since Education at a Glance shows that early childhood education benefits all, particularly disadvantaged and immigrant children.

But for older students, the French education system does not always provide the right incentives so that they can all benefit from that strong start. For example, while per-pupil spending in French upper secondary schools is 32% higher than the OECD average, spending at the primary level, where educational inequalities take root, is 15% below the OECD average. 

Compared to many other countries, finding a job in 2014 was also particularly problematic for the 11% of 15-19 year-olds in France who were not enrolled in formal education– as it was for the 15-29 year-olds without qualification and not enrolled in education (60% of them are unemployed or inactive in France against only 50% on average across OECD countries). Education at a Glance 2015 shows that vocational education, which is too often eclipsed by the importance given to traditional education, should be improved with students enrolled in these programmes spending more time at the workplace.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

This new edition of Education at a Glance is published only a few weeks after world leaders defined the global ambitions for the next 15 years by adopting 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations Summit in New York. The education-related goal aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030”. In the years to come, the targets and indicators related to that goal will be fully integrated into OECD data-collection mechanisms, reporting and analyses, including in future editions of Education at a Glance.

By doing so, we will ensure that this flagship publication, used as a reference by many people all over the world, will continue to set the standard for measuring and monitoring global progress in education. As President John F. Kennedy once said: “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education”. This is what this report is about, it’s about giving policymakers the tools to design, develop and deliver better education policies for better lives.

Thank you!