English tuition-fee regime gets thumbs up on mobility

‘Most advanced’ student-support structure in developed world, says OECD. John Morgan reports

September 13, 2012

England’s tuition-fee reforms of 2006 produced the most “advanced” student-support system of any developed nation and have not deterred poorer students, while low-fee nations such as France, Spain and Italy are performing poorly.

Those were the among the messages from analysis by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, accompanying its latest survey of educational statistics in its 34 member states.

The annual report, Education at a Glance 2012, which mainly looks back to data from 2009, shows that the US lost its lead as the biggest spender on higher education.

The US spent 2.6 per cent of its gross domestic product on higher education institutions in 2009, down from 2.8 per cent in 2005. Drawing level was South Korea, which also spent 2.6 per cent, up from 2.3 per cent in 2005. Close behind was Chile, spending 2.5 per cent (2010 figures), up from 1.8 per cent in 2005.

The UK spent 1.3 per cent of GDP on higher education in 2009, unchanged since 2005.

But private funding for UK higher education is now above public funding (0.7 per cent and 0.6 per cent of GDP, respectively).

Andreas Schleicher, OECD deputy director for education and special adviser on education policy to the secretary general, said at a press briefing in London on 10 September that the UK scores well on “educational mobility”.

The OECD’s report analysed participation in higher education of students whose parents have low levels of education. The UK was ranked fifth on this measure out of 34, behind Iceland, Turkey, Portugal and Ireland.

Mr Schleicher added: “Some…in the UK have argued that asking people to pay tuition in higher education will frighten people from disadvantaged backgrounds, will pose a barrier. We don’t find any relationship between the share of private resources in higher education…and educational mobility.”

The UK was “number one [in the OECD] in terms of raising spending per student” over the period 2000 to 2009 when there was a 72 per cent increase, a figure that would have been heavily influenced by tuition-fee rises in England.

Mr Schleicher added that “the increasing investment from private sources”, which largely produced the UK’s increased spending per student, “has not led to a decline in public investment in higher education” over that period.

In relation to previous tuition-fee reforms, he highlighted the UK’s combination of income-contingent loans and grants saying that the nation “has in our view…probably the most advanced system in the OECD in terms of supporting students”.

Mr Schleicher also noted low levels of financial support for students in low-fee or no-fee nations such as Italy, France and Spain.

He characterised the attitude in these nations, which he said were among the “worst performing” for higher education in terms of learning outcomes, as “we think education is important but we don’t pay the public resources in, nor do we allow institutions to charge fees”.

On increased spending on higher education in Chile and South Korea, he said that “given the high returns for individuals, economies, taxpayers, it’s probably a sensible strategy”.

In Chile, fees are “a hugely contested issue right now”, Mr Schleicher said. “But at the same time, the labour market tells you if you don’t get [to university], you have slim chances - you end up [working] somewhere in the mines.”


Investment in higher education by private and public sources as a share of national wealth


Credit: OECD Education at a Glance 2008 and OECD Education at a Glance 2012

OECD has made minor adjustments to some 2005 figures since publication of Education at a Glance 2008.
*Data available for Canada are for 2004 and 2008. Data available for Chile are for 2006 and 2010.

Economic Benefits of higher education out weigh cost to taxpayer ‘even during times of financial crisis’

Public spending on higher education is a “good thing” and graduates delivered economic benefits to the UK even during the financial crisis, according to analysis by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“The average employment rate of tertiary-educated individuals in the UK increased even during the crisis (by 0.1 percentage point) while the employment rate among individuals with lower levels of education decreased by 3.3 percentage points,” says the OECD of the period between 2008 and 2010 in its “country note” on the UK, part of its annual Education at a Glance 2012 report.

UK graduates generate an extra £55,000 for society over their lifetimes “by paying higher income tax and social contributions - far outweighing the public cost of their education”, the country note adds.

“Even between 2008 and 2009, when GDP fell by 4.9 per cent, the increase in labour income among tertiary-educated individuals contributed more than one percentage point to the UK’s annual growth in GDP,” the country note continues.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD deputy director for education, said at a press briefing in London on 10 September: “In most countries the benefits the public derives from more educated people outweigh the costs by a large margin. This also shows that it is quite a good thing to invest public money in higher education.”

Mr Schleicher highlighted the OECD’s analysis of average GDP growth and labour income growth for those with different categories of educational qualification between 2000 and 2010.

“The UK is a good example of a country where basically higher educated people have made a very significant contribution to the growth we have observed over the last decade,” he said.

By contrast, those with baseline qualifications or below baseline qualifications had become “a drag”, he added.

And the growth benefits delivered by graduates in the UK applied even during the financial crisis, Mr Schleicher said. “Basically labour income growth at the tertiary level has been helping in a period of difficulties.”

Mr Schleicher said that, in the UK, the private net present value of higher education for a man - benefits minus cost - was around £89,400. However, this level puts the UK in the relatively lowly position in the OECD of 19th. The value of higher education for men is highest in Portugal and the US.

The country note also states that the UK had the third-highest graduation rate in the OECD for first-time graduates in high-skill “tertiary-type A” degrees in 2010, behind only Iceland and Poland. The OECD defines tertiary type A as “largely theory-based and…designed to provide sufficient qualifications for entry to advanced research programmes and professions with high-skill requirements, such as medicine, dentistry or architecture”.

The UK was ranked sixth highest for its proportion of graduates from advanced research programmes.

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