Relatively high tuition fees paid through income-contingent loans like those in the UK represent the best hope of maintaining well-funded and accessible higher education, the author of the OECD’s annual report on education has claimed.
Speaking at the London launch of Education at a Glance 2013, Dr Andreas Schleicher said the salary premium enjoyed by graduates in almost all countries appeared to have survived the recession. He expected this to remain the case even after the introduction of £9,000 fees in the UK.
Overall spending on higher education was declining, however. Only if graduates paid a realistic share of the costs of higher education could access and quality be maintained.
According to the report, economic downturn has widened the earnings gap: the average difference in earnings between the lowly educated and the highly educated has risen from 75 per cent across OECD countries in 2008 to 90 per cent in 2011. On average, tertiary-educated adults earn over 1.5 times the salaries of adults with upper secondary education.
The report also quantifies the non-financial benefits enjoyed by graduates. Adults with tertiary education are half as likely to be obese compared to those who do not complete upper secondary education. Tertiary-educated adults in 23 OECD countries are also16 percentage points less likely to smoke than those whose education finishes before the upper secondary level.
One outcome of the economic crisis has been a rise in the number of young people staying on in education, as their job prospects declined. Since 2008, the percentage of 15-29 year-olds who continued in education increased by an average of 1.5 percentage points in OECD nations.But the crisis has halted the long-term trend of rising investment in education: public spending on educational institutions between 2009 and 2010 as a percentage of GDP fell by 1 percentage point on average across the OECD area.
At the tertiary level, between 2005 and 2010, spending per tertiary student fell in eight countries, as expenditure failed to keep up with expanding enrolments. Austria, Iceland, Israel, the UK and the United States, which saw significant increases in student enrolment between 2005 and 2010, did not increase spending at the same pace as enrolment grew. Public spending per student also fell in New Zealand, the Russian Federation and Switzerland.
Women are in the majority at all levels of tertiary education, except at the doctoral level. Based on current patterns of graduation, it is estimated that an average of 48 per cent of today’s young women and 32 per cent of today’s young men in OECD countries will complete tertiary education over their lifetimes.
The full report is available at www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm