Access to education continues to expand worldwide but the socio-economic divisions between tertiary-educated adults and the rest of society are growing. Governments must do more to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to a good education early in life, according to a new OECD report.
Education at a Glance 2014 says that educational mobility has started to slow down in the industrialised world. The number of people with lower qualifications than their parents is 9% among 55-64 year-olds to 12% among 35-44 year-olds and 16% among 25-34 year-olds.
At the same time, among the younger age group of 25-34 year-olds, where the tertiary attainment rate had risen to 43%, the impact of parents’ educational background was just as strong: of adults with at least one tertiary-educated parent, 65% attained a tertiary qualification, while of the adults with low-educated parents only 23% did. These data suggest that the expansion in education has not translated into a more inclusive society.
“Education can lift people out of poverty and social exclusion, but to do so we need to break the link between social background and educational opportunity,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “The biggest threat to inclusive growth is the risk that social mobility could grind to a halt. Increasing access to education for everyone and continuing to improve people’s skills will be essential to long-term prosperity and a more cohesive society.”
The report shows that higher levels of education and skills pay off more than ever before – in employment and earnings, and in many social outcomes, such as health. On average across OECD countries, 5% of 25-64 year-olds with a tertiary degree are unemployed compared to 14% of those without an upper secondary education; in 2000, the gap between the two groups was four percentage points less.
New data on earnings also point to a widening gap between the educational “haves” and “have-nots”: the relative income gap between mid-educated and high-educated adults also grew twice as much as the gap between mid-educated and low-educated adults between 2000 and 2012. This means that, in relative terms, mid-educated adults have moved closer in income to those with low levels of education, suggesting that the middle-classes are falling further behind.
The report analyses the education systems of the 34 OECD member countries, as well as Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
Around 84% of today’s young people will complete upper secondary education over their lifetimes. In most countries, young women are now more likely to do so than men, a reversal of the historical pattern.
Close to 40% of 25-34 year-olds across OECD countries now have a university-level education. That proportion is 15 percentage points larger than of 55-64 year-olds who have attained a similar level of education. In many countries, this difference exceeds 20 percentage points.
Tertiary-educated individuals are likely to earn twice as much as the median worker. In Chile, Brazil and Hungary, tertiary-educated people earn more than double the income of a person without upper secondary education.
OECD countries spend on average USD 9,487 per student per year from primary through tertiary education: USD 8,296 per primary student, USD 9,280 per secondary student, and USD 13, 958 per tertiary student.
High teachers’ salaries and low student-teacher ratios are often the main costs among the ten countries with the highest spending per student in secondary educational institutions.
OECD countries spent an average of 6.1% of GDP on education in 2011. Public funding accounts for 84% of all spending on educational institutions. Only six countries cut public spending in real terms between 2008 and 2011: Estonia (- 10%), Hungary (- 12%), Iceland (- 11%), Italy (- 11%), the Russian Federation (- 5%) and the United States (- 3%).
From school to work
The economic crisis encouraged more young people to stay in education: the proportion of 15-29 year-olds who are no longer in education shrank from 54% in 2008 to 51% in 2012, on average across OECD countries.
A typical 15-year-old in an OECD country could expect to spend about seven additional years in formal education over the next 15 years. Before turning 30, they could expect to hold a job for over five years, be unemployed for nearly one year and be neither in education nor seeking work for over one year.
More than half of adults take part in education in a given year. This ranges from two out of three in Denmark, Finland and Sweden, to one out of three in the Slovak Republic and one out of four in Italy.
In the classroom
Students receive an average of 7475 hours of compulsory education at primary and lower secondary level. Students in Australia have the most, at over 10,000 hours, and in Hungary the least, at less than 6,000 hours.
The statutory salaries of teachers with 15 years’ experience average USD 39,024 at primary level, USD 40,570 at lower secondary and USD 42,861 at upper secondary level. But teachers in about two-thirds of countries have seen their salaries fall in real terms since 2009.
Most teachers are women but the share decreases as the education level rises: 97% at pre-primary, 82% at primary, 67% at lower secondary, 57% at upper secondary and 42% at tertiary level.