Many graduates leaving university under-skilled, says OECD

UK should focus more on improving ‘skills value’ of degrees rather than subsidising loans, suggests director of education and skills

September 11, 2018
Burnt cake

A number of countries including England are producing many graduates who lack the advanced skills needed to find employment that matches their level of education, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

According to data published in Education at a Glance 2018, drawing on the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills, there are a number of countries where graduates who say that they are overqualified for their job have numeracy skills that are well below other graduates who find work that matches their level of education.

Countries with the biggest gaps include Canada, Germany, France and England, while England also has one of the highest proportions of graduates (28 per cent) saying that they are in a job that needs only a school-leaver’s qualification.



Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director for education and skills, said that the data raised questions about the “equivalence” of degrees both between countries and within them.

“You can see that the skill level of tertiary graduates varies hugely across countries, and I think that is an indication that a tertiary degree may not [always] be [at the true level of] a tertiary degree,” he said.

Mr Schleicher said that despite the UK having a large proportion of graduates feeling that they were in jobs that did not require a degree, he saw “no evidence in the UK economy that there is not enough demand for highly skilled people”.

“My reading, putting all of the data together, is that you do have an issue on the supply side…it would be worth looking more carefully at the quality of some of the degrees and qualifications at tertiary level.”

He also said that countries with student loan systems where governments ended up writing off a large amount of debt – such as England, where it is estimated that up to 45 per cent of debt will not be repaid – should perhaps focus on improving the “skills value” of degrees rather than subsidising the loans system in such a way.

“We shouldn’t subsidise things that are not worth their value, we should rather increase the skills value of those kind of degrees…so that people end up well matched in their jobs and earning an appropriate salary,” Mr Schleicher said.

“Rather than dealing with students who don’t pay back their loans, I think the question for me...is how can you ensure that the quality of provision is such that young people know exactly what they are going to get and then they actually get it,” he added.

“Many universities in the UK are doing a fantastic job, but there are some [that are providing] programmes that probably shouldn’t be there. I think that giving students better information, and then having quality assurance systems in place that regulate that, is, in my view, the better answer.”

Other figures in the report, which was released on 11 September, also show that those with a master’s qualification or above in the UK are well below the OECD average in terms of the earnings premium that they gain compared with those holding only school-leaving qualifications.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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