Education spending rising but access to higher education remains unequal in most countries, says OECD


11/09/2012 -  Watch the webcast of the press conference live

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.





  • Young women are five percentage points more likely than young men to become better educated than their parents (40% compared with 35%), while young men are more likely than young women to have lower educational attainment than their parents (15% compared with 11%).


  • The educational attainment of mothers has a stronger impact on students’ reading performance than the primary language at home or the proportion of immigrant students in a school.


  • Across OECD countries, more than one-third of immigrant students attend schools with the highest concentrations of students with low-educated mothers. In the European Union, more than half do.



Education spending


  • On average, OECD countries spend USD 9 252 annually per student from primary through tertiary education: USD 7 719 per primary student, USD 9 312 per secondary student and USD 13 728 per tertiary student.


  • The share of private funding for tertiary education increased between 2000 and 2009 in 18 out of 25 countries. The share increased by 5 percentage points on average, and by more than 12 percentage points in the Slovak Republic (from 8.8% to 30%) and the United Kingdom (from 32.3% to 70.4%).


  • An increasing number of OECD countries are charging higher tuition fees for international students than for national students, and many also differentiate tuition fees by field of education, largely because of the difference in the public cost of studies.


  • Between 2000 and 2009, in 24 of the 29 countries for which data are available, expenditure per primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary student increased spending by at least 16%. The increase exceeded 50% in Brazil, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Korea, Poland, the Slovak Republic and the United Kingdom. By contrast, in France, Israel and Italy, this expenditure increased by only 10% or less between 2000 and 2009.


School environment


  • Salaries for teachers with at least 15 years of experience average USD 35 630 at the pre-primary level, USD 37 603 at the primary level, USD 39 401 at the lower secondary level and USD 41 182 at the upper secondary level.


  • Teachers’ salaries increased in real terms in most countries between 2000 and 2010. In Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Portugal and Scotland, salaries increased by at least 20%. In the Czech Republic (primary and lower secondary levels) and in Turkey, salaries doubled over the past decade. Only in France and Japan did teachers’ salaries decrease in real terms, by more than 5%.


  • The number of teaching hours per teacher in public schools in 2010 averages 782 hours per year in primary education, 704 hours in lower secondary education, and 658 hours in upper secondary education. This is little changed from 2000 but has changed dramatically in a few countries. It increased by more than 25% in the Czech Republic at the primary level and in Portugal and Spain at the secondary level.


  • Some two-thirds of teachers and academic staff are women on average in the OECD, but the proportion of female teachers decreases as the level of education increases: ranging from 97% at pre-primary to 41% at tertiary level.


  • 58% of primary teachers are at least 40 years old on average in OECD countries. The proportion exceeds 70% in the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Sweden. At secondary level, 63% of teachers are at least 40, and 70% or more in Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany and Italy.


For comment only journalists are invited to contact Andreas Schleicher (tel. + 33 1 45 24 93 66) in the OECD’s Education Directorate. To get a copy of the report please send an email to The report is available to journalists on the OECD’s password-protected site.


Further information on Education at a Glance 2012, including country notes, key data and a new visualization tool to compare countries’ performance, is available at

A mobile-friendly version of the report, compatible with smartphones and tablets, is available at

Country briefings are available for Australia, Brazil, Canada, European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Portugal, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States

The OECD and have launched a data visualization competition around Education at a Glance 2012. The focus is on the economic costs and returns on education. Find out how to enter at


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