Degree class expands

June 15, 2001

Rising demand for educated workers and higher individual expectations have encouraged more young people to seek a university degree or similar qualification, according to the latest review of educational performance across the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The OECD survey, which covers the 29 leading industrialised countries, suggests that employers benefited from the rising numbers of graduates in the 1990s. It also offers evidence that demand is growing faster than supply.

An average of 25 per cent of the university age group completes an academic-oriented first degree. Top of the league is New Zealand, where the proportion is above 35 per cent. In Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom (which had the second highest proportion) and the United States, the proportion was 30 per cent or higher. At the lower end of the scale, with a proportion of 16 per cent or less, were Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Turkey.

The structure of degree programmes is a big influence on graduation success. Countries such as the UK, in which most degrees are obtained in three to four years, have an average completion rate of about 28 per cent of the relevant age group. In nations without similar shorter degree programmes or with primarily longer ones, the average graduation rate is 20 per cent.

Longer courses, customary in much of continental Europe, can lead to a high total spend per student, even when annual spending per student is comparable. In Austria and the Netherlands, annual spending per student is broadly similar ($11,9 and $10,757 respectively), but Austria's overall cost is more than 50 per cent higher than the Netherlands' because Austrian studies are typically one-third longer.

Austria spends more per student over the duration of a degree course than any other OECD country ($72,184). The UK's spending ($34,348) puts it near the bottom of the table. In Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary and the UK, spending per student fell by more than 10 per cent in 1995-98, largely because of rising student numbers. In Ireland and Poland, spending per student rose despite equally dramatic growth in numbers.

In the remaining 22 OECD countries, spending increased by 5 per cent or more with little or no change in enrolments. Germany was the only country in which student numbers declined.

Korea and the US spend more than one-third of all of their education spending on universities and colleges (2.5 and 2.3 per cent of gross domestic product respectively). The UK spend of just over 1 per cent equates with the OECD mean.

Private spending on tertiary institutions exceeds 30 per cent in a number of countries, including Korea, Japan, the US, Australia, Canada and the UK. In Japan, more than half of all final funds for tertiary institutions originate from private sources.In Korea, the figure exceeds 80 per cent.

Differences in the rate of expansion have widened the gaps between countries. In the UK, New Zealand, Finland, the Netherlands and the US, one in three school-leavers now completes a first university degree. The proportion in Turkey, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Austria, Germany and Italy falls to below one in six.

The proportion of 25 to 64-year-olds who have completed an academic tertiary education course or an advanced research programme ranges from below 10 per cent in Austria, Denmark, Italy, Portugal and Turkey to 20 per cent or more in the Netherlands, Norway and the US.

Education at a Glance 2001
OECD Publications Service
2, rue André Pascal
75775 Paris Cedex 16

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