The United Kingdom has much lower levels of participation in full-time education at 16 to 18 than most of our competitor nations, according to new research from the Institute of Education.
When 16-plus full-time and part-time education and training are combined overall, participation in the UK is more than 90 per cent and broadly equivalent to our competitors, the research finds.
According to research author Ken Spours, however, part-time and work-based training deliver a very low rate of qualifications in the UK, mostly level 2 or below. He argues that it is therefore more objective to compare full-time participation rates only.
Mr Spours's figures show vital differences between modes of participation in the UK and most other advanced industrial nations. Whereas most other countries had achieved high levels of full-time participation by the mid-1980s, the UK rate was below 50 per cent at 16-plus.
During the 1980s and 1990s the UK developed relatively high levels of part-time education and training, delivering a low rate of qualifications.
The research finds that three distinct types of education and training systems have emerged in the 1990s:
* those systems with high levels of full-time participation in tertiary education from 16-19 (in some cases sustained at more moderate levels to 24) including Germany, France and Denmark
* a US-type pattern with very high participation at 16, 17 and 18 and mass access to higher education. France also has a mass HE system and large-scale participation in tertiary education.
* Australia, New Zealand and the UK can be grouped into a third pattern according to the research with "modest levels of participation at 16 and sharp downturns at 17 and 18 and negligible levels of tertiary participation beyond 18".