US again tops list of HE spenders

The US has reclaimed its position as the biggest spender on higher education, as rising fees pushed it clear in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s annual figures.

June 25, 2013

The US spent 2.8 per cent of its GDP on higher education in 2010, up from 2.6 per cent in 2009, when it had been in joint first position with South Korea. The rise came from private funding, up from 1.6 per cent of GDP to 1.8 per cent as fees continued to rise.

The UK spent 1.4 per cent of GDP on higher education in 2010 (0.74 per cent in public funding, 0.63 per cent in private funding), up from 1.3 per cent in 2009 but below the OECD average of 1.6 per cent.

The figures are contained in the OECD’s annual Education at a Glance report, published today. The report’s most recent figures on GDP spend date from 2010.

The US came ahead of Canada (which spent 2.7 per cent of GDP on higher education in 2010), South Korea (2.6 per cent) and Chile (2.4 per cent).

Fees in these nations are relatively high by international standards, and all have high levels of private funding for higher education.

Japan had the lowest level of public funding for higher education in the OECD, at 0.5 per cent of GDP. It was followed by Chile, Korea, the Slovak Republic and the UK on 0.7 per cent.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s deputy director for education, gave a press briefing on the report yesterday in London, at which he discussed problems of access for students in high-fee nations.

“Chile, Korea and Japan are much more challenging environments because they don’t have good loan systems, and no grant facilities either,” he said.

“The US is strong on grants, so-so on loans: also there the environment is more challenging. Countries where you have a more sustainable approach are countries like the UK, or Australia.”

Mr Schleicher spoke in relation to the pre-2012 English system (the OECD does not yet have data on the post-2012 system), praising its income-contingent loans.

He added of the approaches of nations such as England and Australia: “In our view, that’s the only way, the only sustainable way to finance higher education. To actually have the cost structures reflect the benefits that accrue to individuals, employers and taxpayers.”

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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