Figures from this year's Education at a Glance report, published today by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), reveal that the UK spent 1.3 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product on tertiary education in 2009.
This figure is up on the previous year, when spending was at 1.2 per cent of GDP, however it falls short of the OECD average of 1.6 per cent.
The increase is due to a rise in the amount of private money going into tertiary education, from 0.6 to 0.7 per cent of GDP, while the level of public funding remained consistent at 0.6 per cent.
As in 2008, Japan was the only OECD country to spend less public money on tertiary education as a percentage of GDP (0.5 per cent).
However, according to the report, the UK saw a 72 per cent increase in expenditure per tertiary student between 2000 and 2009 - the highest rise among the 26 OECD countries with available data.
"The steep rise in spending on tertiary education in the UK was largely the result of a significant increase in the share of private sources of funding for tertiary education," the report says. "Nevertheless, the increase in private financing has not led to a decline in public expenditure on tertiary education, which increased by 17 per cent over the same period."
Elsewhere, the report finds that demand for graduates in the UK labour market continues to grow.
During the recession, the average employment rate of tertiary-educated individuals increased by 0.1 percentage points, the report says, while among individuals with lower levels of education, it decreased by 3.3 percentage points.
Tertiary graduates also each generated an extra £55,000 for the UK economy, by paying higher income tax and social contributions - more than compensating for the public cost of their education.
"Large advantages continue to accrue to both individuals and the public from higher levels of education," the report says.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the report demonstrated that investment in education "pays for itself many times over".
"The government urgently needs a growth plan for our country, which places investment in education at its heart. Giving people the skills to earn more and participate in society is key to getting Britain back on the road to prosperity," she said.