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18th Sep 2012

New national statistics compare education and student mobility in over 40 countries

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released the 2012 edition of Education at a Glance, which enables countries to see themselves in the light of other countries’ educational performance. The report provides comparable national statistics about education for the 34 OECD member countries, as well as Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. Education at a Glance reviews education levels and student numbers, the economic and social benefits of education, public and private spending on education, tuition fees, decision-making powers of schools, national examination systems, the school environment, as well as equity and accessibility in education. The report can be accessed via the link above, and we've pulled out a few highlights from various articles provided by University World News, as well as a video summary below of key findings from Andreas Schleicher, OECD Deputy-Director of Education.

Who studies abroad and where?

Europe is the preferred destination for those studying outside their country, and has 41% of all international students. North America has 21% of all international students. Australia, France, Germany, and the UK and the US each receive more than 6% of all foreign students worldwide. Nevertheless, the fastest growing regions of destination are Latin America and the Caribbean, Oceania and Asia, mirroring the internationalisation of universities in an increasing set of countries. International students from OECD countries mainly come from Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Turkey and the US, and they make up 10% or more of the enrolments in tertiary education in Australia, Austria, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Switzerland and the UK. They also account for more than 20% of enrolments in advanced research programmes in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

In 2010, more than 4.1 million tertiary students were enrolled outside their country of citizenship, which represents an average annual growth rate of 7.1% from 2000 to 2010. Luxembourg, Australia, the United Kingdom, Austria, Switzerland and New Zealand have, in descending order, the highest percentages of international students among their tertiary enrolments.

The number of foreign students enrolled in OECD countries was almost three times the number of citizens from an OECD country studying abroad in 2010. In the 21 European countries that are members of the OECD, there were 2.7 foreign students per each European citizen enrolled abroad. Some 83% of all foreign students are enrolled in G20 countries, while 77% of all foreign students are enrolled in OECD countries, and these proportions have remained stable during the past decade. A significant portion of students coming from G20 non-OECD countries includes the better-performing students, natural candidates for public or private support, or students who have a relatively high socio-economic background. This implies that student mobility can not only bring stature to tertiary institutions’ academic programmes, but also economic benefits to the host country's education systems.

Longer-term trends

The number of students enrolled outside their country of citizenship has risen dramatically from 0.8 million worldwide in 1975 to 4.1 million in 2010 – an increase of more than five-fold. The jump stems from various factors, from an interest in promoting academic, cultural, social and political ties between countries (especially as the European Union was taking shape), to a substantial increase in global access to tertiary education, and reduced transportation costs. The internationalisation of labour markets for highly skilled individuals has also given people an incentive to gain international experience as part of their studies. The increase in the number of foreign students can be compared to the increase in tertiary enrolment worldwide. According to UNESCO data, 177 million students participated in formal tertiary education around the world in 2010 – an increase of 77 million students (or 77%) since 2000.

Most of the new foreign tertiary students come from countries outside the OECD area, and are likely gradually to increase the proportion of foreign students in advanced research programmes in OECD and in G20 countries in the coming years.

In absolute terms, the number of foreign students enrolled in tertiary education has more than doubled since 2005 in Brazil, Chile, Estonia, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Korea, Luxembourg, Saudi Arabia, the Slovak Republic and Spain. In contrast, the number of foreign students enrolled in France, Germany, Mexico and New Zealand grew by less than 10%.

OECD urges nations to boost spending on education

OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría said nations need an increasingly educated and skilled workforce in order to succeed in today’s knowledge economy, noting that investing from an early age was crucial to lay the foundations for later success.

“High quality education and skills have to be among the number one priorities for governments, for economies and for societies. Supporting the poorest and ensuring equal access is another important pillar in an inclusive education policy strategy,” he said.

The report’s authors say Australia, Finland, Ireland and Sweden have the highest success rates in the OECD for young people of poorly educated parents attaining a tertiary degree. But in Italy, Portugal, Turkey and the United States, more than 40% of young people from low educational backgrounds have not completed upper secondary education, and less than 20% have obtained degrees.

Investment in education

Public and private spending on education has continued to rise, even during the economic downturn. Between 2008 and 2009, total investment – by governments, enterprises and individuals – increased in 24 out of 31 OECD countries for which data were available. This occurred even as national wealth, as measured by GDP, decreased in 26 of these countries. Similarly, as University World News highlights, expenditure per student by primary, secondary and post-secondary education institutions increased by 15 percentage points on average across OECD countries between 2005 and 2009. Some of the emerging economies are leading the way. In Brazil and the Russian Federation, spending per student rose by around 60 percentage points over the same period, albeit from comparatively low levels. Meanwhile, per-student expenditure by tertiary institutions rose an average of nine percentage points during this same period. But while public spending on education as a percentage of total public expenditure remained at 13% on average across the OECD in 2005 and 2009, it fell in 19 out of 32 countries – an outcome almost certainly related to the onset and deepening of the global recession during the latter part of this time frame. Private funding, mainly from parents, represents on average 30% of total expenditure on tertiary education.

Yet the gap between public and private contributions in the various countries is huge, with the proportion of private spending on higher education ranging from less than 5% in Denmark, Finland and Norway to more than 40% in Australia, Israel, Japan and the US, and to more than 70% in Chile, Korea and the UK.

“The increasing costs of entry to higher education for many families may impede countries’ own goals of increasing educational attainment in their populations,” the OECD report warns.

Tuition fees

As University World News points out, an increasing number of OECD countries are charging higher tuition fees for international students than for national students, and many also differentiate tuition fees by field of education, largely because of the difference in the public cost of studies. In Australia, Chile, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom, grants-scholarships and loans are particularly developed, and public support to households account for at least 27% of public tertiary education budgets. Among the European countries for which data are available, only public tertiary institutions in Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom (government-dependent private institutions) charge annual tuition fees of more than US $1,200 per full-time national student.

Budgetary pressures stemming from the global economic crisis may make it more difficult for countries that have lower tuition fees to sustain this model in the future.

There are large differences among countries in the average tuition fees charged by tertiary-type A institutions for national students. In the five Nordic countries with more progressive tax structures – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – and in the Czech Republic and Mexico, public institutions do not charge tuition fees. Ireland could also be included in this category, as the tuition fees charged by public institutions (for full-time undergraduate students from the European Union) are paid directly by the government. By contrast, tuition fees are higher in one-third of the countries and they reach more than US $5,000 in Korea and the United States. Meanwhile, in Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland and Spain, students pay small tuition fees for tertiary type A education.

Shifts in attainment levels

As summarised by University World News, if current tertiary attainment rates among 25- to 34-year-olds are maintained, the proportion of adults in Ireland, Japan and Korea, among other countries, who have a tertiary education will grow to more than that of other OECD countries, while the proportion in Austria, Brazil and Germany (among others) will fall further behind other OECD countries. Vocational education and training is a major factor in the educational attainment of people in many countries. A vocational upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education is the highest level of attainment for more than 50% of 25- to 64-year-olds in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. Despite notable strides, some countries remain far below the OECD average in terms of upper secondary attainment. For example, in Brazil, China, Mexico, Portugal and Turkey roughly half of all 25- to 34-year-olds – or far more – lack an upper secondary education. Based on current patterns of graduation, it is estimated that an average of 39% of today’s young adults in OECD countries will complete tertiary-type A (largely theory-based) education over their lifetimes, from 50% or more in Australia, Denmark, Iceland, Poland and the United Kingdom to less than 25% in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. At the same time, it is expected that only a third of young adults will complete tertiary education before the age of 30, from a high of more than 40% in Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Poland and the United Kingdom to only 18% in Mexico.

Video summary

Andreas Schleicher, OECD Deputy-Director of Education speaks about the key finding of this year's OECD Education at Glance explaining that education spending is rising but access to higher education remains unequal in most countries. Governments should increase investment in early childhood programmes and maintain reasonable costs for higher education in order to reduce inequality, boost social mobility and improve people's employment prospects. Please visit the OECD website for further report information such as detailed country by country notes.

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