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Taking action in higher education

UK education rates amongst the worst in the developed world, report shows

13 September 2011 | last updated: 11 December 2015

A report released today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveals that the UK has one of the worst records for educational participation among leading economies.

  • 25 countries have higher rate of 15-19 year-olds in education
  • 27 countries have higher rate of 20-29 year-olds in education
  • UK also lagging behind in public spending on higher education
  • Union says government must invest or UK risks falling further behind

Analysis of the percentage of people aged 15-19 and 20-29 in education show that the UK is in the relegation zone for developed countries*.  Twenty-five countries (out of 30) have a higher percentage of 15-19 year-olds in education than the UK and twenty-seven countries (out of 30) have a higher percentage of 20-29 year-olds in education than the UK.

The UK's participation rate for people aged 15-19 and 20-29 is well below the OECD average, with the UK lagging behind countries such as Slovakia, Estonia, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Responding to the Education at a Glance 2011 report the University and College Union (UCU) said that unless the government reversed its punitive cuts to further and higher education, which will see budgets heavily cut and student fees rise, the UK risked dropping further behind competitor countries.

The union also highlighted how the UK's public expenditure on higher education (0.6%), as a percentage of its GDP, was almost half the OECD average (1.0%) , with the UK being outspent by 26 (out of 30) other countries, including nearly two-to-one by Estonia (1.1%) and Poland (1.0)**.

Key findings from the report include:

  • The UK percentage of people in 2009 aged 15-19 in education (74) is well below the OECD average of 82. Only Chile (73), Israel (64), Turkey (53) and Mexico (52) have a lower percentage.
  • The UK percentage of people in 2009 aged 20-29 in education (17) is well below the OECD average of 26. Only Turkey (15) and Mexico (11) have a lower percentage than the UK.
  • The UK's public expenditure on higher education (0.6%), as a percentage of its GDP, was almost half the OECD average (1.0%). Only Japan (0.5%) invests less.
  • The UK is being outspent in public funding for higher education by 26 other countries, including by nearly two-to-one by Estonia (1.1%) and Poland (1.0).
  • In its country note for the UK, the OECD points out that "the public benefit that tertiary graduates generate through higher income tax and social contributions far outweigh the public costs."

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'The UK has one of the worst records for educational participation among developed countries and is languishing in the relegation zone when it comes to public spending on higher education.

'The UK's poor record of investment in educating adults places us at a real disadvantage against other countries. We need an urgent debate about the importance of education and skills to our economy and society before it is too late. As the OECD points out, public investment in education repays itself many times over, but government policy means our workforce is poorly prepared for life in the new knowledge economy.'

The news comes just a week after a report from the Centre for the Economics of Education^ predicted that higher fees in 2012 would lead to a drop of 7.51% in the number of men and a 4.92% fall in the number of women wanting to go to university.

The union also pointed to a comprehensive study by international economists which claimed that "output for world economy would increase by 27% for every additional year of tertiary education."^^

Notes

* Table C1.2, page 304, OECD Education at a Glance 2011

** Table B2.3, page 231, OECD Education at a Glance 2011

^ From Grants to Loans and Fees: The Demand for Post- Compulsory Education in England and Wales from 1955 to 2008 by Peter Dalton and Li Lin, August 2011 (pdf)

^^A New Data Set of Educational Attainment in the World, 1950-2010 

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