Wastage and female enrolment are the main trends in the latest OECD education reports, says Mary Boland
Women now comprise the majority of students in third-level education in most OECD countries.
In Britain, 50 per cent of university students are women; they also account for slightly more than 50 per cent of all non-university third-level students. In Denmark, women account for about 60 per cent of university-goers; in Germany, just under 50 per cent; in Ireland, 50 per cent; and in the United States, about 55 per cent.
"This is an exceptional situation," said OECD education specialist Albert Tuijnman. "It really shows how tertiary education systems are evolving, and how lifestyles are changing."
However, women continue to be greatly under-represented in some subject areas, such as the natural sciences and industrial and engineering fields. They are over-represented in the health professions, education and in the social and behavioural sciences.
OECD officials say these statistics prompt questions on whether an adequate resource pool is being developed to cope with science and technology. Alan Wagner said: "There should be some potential to exploit a resource pool - an ability pool, a human pool - made up of women."
New figures show that women with university degrees have vastly increased earnings potential compared with women who stop after upper-secondary school. In most countries, this gap is wider for women than for men. In Britain a female university graduate earns 110 per cent more than a female upper-secondary school graduate. A male university graduate earns just over 60 per cent more than a man with upper-secondary schooling.
In Ireland, female university graduates earn about 95 per cent more than female upper-secondary school graduates. In the United States, the figure is almost 90 per cent more; in France, about 70 per cent; in Germany, 65 per cent; and in Italy, 20 per cent.