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UK degree-level spending lags behind competitor countries - and social mobility remains a persistent problem

9 September 2014

The UK is lagging behind competitor countries including the United States, Japan and France in terms of spending per student at degree-level, according to a major international education report released today.

The report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted that UK spending per student on tertiary education in 2011 was around $14,000 - significantly less than competitor countries like the USA ($26,000), and Switzerland ($23,000). The UK ranks fourteenth in the table of 34 countries for spending per student at degree level, behind several other European countries including Denmark and the Netherlands. 

UCU said that politicians need to set out clear plans for continued investment in post-school education, as well as for improving participation among those currently least likely to enter further and higher education.

The report showed that there are some serious causes for concern in relation to social mobility in the UK:

  • Over 40% of the UK adult population holds a degree-level qualification - up from around 25% in 2000 - but the likelihood of gaining a degree still depends on background.
  • Those whose parents obtained a tertiary qualification are over six times more likely to study for a university-level qualification themselves (the OECD average is 4.5 times more likely).
  • Less than 10% of 20-34-year-olds from families where one or more parents did not complete upper secondary education go on to study at degree level.
  • Those with at least one parent educated to degree level are over 10% more likely to participate in adult education.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This report shows that the UK is falling behind its competitors in terms of investment on students. If we are to continue to compete with America, Japan and European neighbours like France and the Netherlands, we need to invest more in education.

'It's also shocking to note that, despite over 40% of the UK adult population now attaining a degree-level education, the likelihood of getting a degree still depends largely on how well-educated your parents are. Politicians from each of the parties need to set out clear and far-reaching plans for how people from all backgrounds can be encouraged into further and higher education in order to reach their full potential.

'Our members want to teach the brightest students from all walks of life, but this report shows that there is clearly a long way to go before all of that potential is realised.'

Last updated: 10 December 2015