Expanding higher education can boost job chances for early school-leavers too


18/09/2007 - More widespread university education means more prosperous economies and provides rich rewards in the labour market for those who graduate.  Furthermore, the job prospects for the less well qualified do not appear to be damaged by the expansion of higher education and may even be improved, according to the latest edition of the OECD’s annual Education at a Glance.

In all countries with comparative data, university graduates earn more money and find jobs more easily than people who have not had a university education, and these advantages have grown further over recent years in many countries. However, fears of a crowding-out effect, whereby more graduates would mean more unemployment at the lower end of the scale, appear not to be justified.
A compendium of international education indicators providing measures of quality, quantity, equity and efficiency of education systems, Education at a Glance provides governments and education specialists with internationally comparable data as a basis for policy debate and decisions. Among other things, this year’s edition shows that:

  • More than 40% of young people now complete university courses in Australia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland, with graduation rates tending to be highest in countries where programmes are of short duration. By contrast, in Germany and Austria, where programmes are longer, only around 20% of young people get degrees.

  • Higher education enrolments continue to grow, with more than 50% of high school graduates – and in some countries more than 75% -- going on to higher education.

  • Even with this continued expansion, the earnings advantage of those with university degrees has not deteriorated and in many countries has in fact increased.

  • Moreover, in countries where university education has expanded most, this has not gone hand in hand with deteriorating employment prospects for the lesser qualified, contrary to what many predict. Between 1995 and 2004, France, Ireland and Korea had the fastest growth in higher education attainment and saw unemployment among the less-well qualified decline or rise only marginally. By contrast, Germany, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic had little or no growth in higher education attainment between 1995 and 2004 and substantial growth in unemployment among the less-well qualified.

  • In all countries the penalties for not completing upper secondary education are significant. On average, unemployment rates among people who do not complete high school are five percentage points higher than people who complete upper secondary education and seven points higher than people with university degrees.

  • The successful integration of immigrants into schooling systems is a major equity challenge in many countries. The poorer performance of first generation immigrant students compared with their native counterparts represents more than a year’s worth of study.

  • Countries are collectively spending more than they have ever done on education, with expenditure increasing in real terms by more than 40% since 1995. But the results gained from that investment are far from maximized. Analysis suggests that given current levels of expenditure, learning outcomes could be increased by 22%.

Looking ahead, financing the expansion of higher education will be an issue for many countries. Spending per student has already begun to decline in some, as enrolments rise faster than overall spending on higher education. Innovative financing and student support policies that mobilize extra public and private funding will be part of the answer, and many countries are moving successfully in this direction, in some cases without creating barriers for student participation.

The Nordic countries, for example, have achieved high levels of participation in higher education while relying mainly on public spending, including support both of institutions and of students and households. Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the U.K. have expanded participation in higher education by relying more on the financial contributions of students and households.

In contrast, many Continental European countries are not investing more public money in their universities nor are universities allowed to charge tuition fees, with the result that the European average for spending per higher education student is now well below half that of the U.S.

Education at a Glance 2007 is available to journalists on the OECD's password-protected website.  For further information, journalists are invited to contact the OECD's Media Division (tel. + 33 1 45 24 97 00).

Education at a Glance 2007 can be purchased on paper through the OECD’s Online Bookshop. Subscribers and readers at subscribing institutions can access the online version via SourceOECD.

Further information on Education at a Glance 2007 can be found at  The website offers: a free PDF of the publication; a complete database and country briefing notes on AustriaFranceFinlandGermanyHungaryItalyJapanMexicoSpainSweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.