Global Education Trends


It took about 45 minutes to receive and answer to my request for country information on educational data. Larry Willmore kindly provided it. It was an obvious source, the OECD Global Education Trends, which I should have known about.

The full report is 565 pages and a shortened version is 91 pages at

This is still too long for our main interests. The 91 page report contains the following summary:

Education at a Glance 2012: Highlights offers a reader-friendly introduction to the OECD’s collection of internationally comparable data on education.

As the name suggests, it is derived from Education at a Glance 2012, the OECD’s flagship compendium of education statistics. However, it differs from that publication in a number of ways, most significantly in its structure, which is made up of five sections that explore the following topics:

Education levels and student numbers: This section looks at education levels in the general population, how and where young people are studying and how well they make the transition into the world of work.

The economic and social benefits of education: This section looks at the extent to which education brings economic gains to individuals, in the form of higher incomes and lower unemployment rates, and at how these benefits serve as an incentive for people and societies to invest in education. It also examines the societal benefits related to having a highly educated population.

Paying for education: This section looks at how much countries spend on education, the role of private spending, what education money is spent on and whether countries are getting value for money.

The school environment: This section looks at how much time teachers spend at work, and how much of that time is spent teaching, class sizes, teachers’ salaries and the age and gender distribution of teachers.

Equity: This special section looks at issues relating to equity in education, particularly the accessibility of education at all levels, intergenerational mobility, gender gaps in education and the impact of socio-economic background on student performance, especially for the children of immigrants.

In the interests of further brevity, below I extract findings related to the first three bullet points – education levels, economic and social benefits, and paying for education.  I quote the OECD average for a number of measures followed by where Canada stands in brackets where available. Figures for other countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Portugal and the US can be found in the report.

  • A higher % of younger people are now studying to at least the post secondary level than before, 62%  (82%) of those aged 55-64 year olds and 82% (92%) of those aged 25-24.
  • A higher % of the population has attained tertiary (post secondary) education than before, 23% (42%) of those aged 55-64 and 38% (57%) of those aged 25-34.
  • In 2010, 61% (75% for US) of young people entered university level education compared with 48% in 2000. No figures are reported for Canada for either 2000 or 2010.
  • Entry rates for vocationally oriented tertiary education rose from 15% in 2000 to 17% in 2010. No figures shown for Canada and US.
  • First time graduation rates from university level education in 1995 were 20% (27%) and in 2010 were 39% (36%)
  • Earnings tend to rise in line with people’s level of education. People with higher (tertiary) education can expect to earn 55% more on average in OECD countries than a person without tertiary education. Those who have not completed secondary education earn 23% less than those who have. Across all countries and all levels of education, women earn less than men, and that gap is not reduced with more education.
  • In general, people with higher levels of education have better job prospects; the difference is particularly marked between those who have attained upper secondary education and those who have not.
  • In all OECD countries, tertiary (university) graduates are more likely to be in work than non-graduates. Men generally have higher employment rates than women; for those with tertiary education the difference reaches more than 25 percentage points in favour of men in some countries.
  • Rewards are typically higher for individuals who attain tertiary education than those with upper secondary education or postsecondary non-tertiary (vocational) education. Tertiary education brings substantial rewards across OECD countries, generating net returns (private benefits less private costs) of US$ 162 000 for men and US$ 110 000 for women. (Private costs include tuition fees and foregone earnings, while private benefits include increased lifetime earnings).
  • Individuals invest an average US$ 55 000 to acquire a tertiary education qualification, taking into account direct costs such as tuition fees and indirect costs such as loss of earnings while studying.
  • Adults with higher levels of educational attainment are more likely to live longer, show higher levels of civic engagement and exhibit greater satisfaction with life. There is a clear positive relationship between education and life expectancy, although it is not as strong for women.
  • There are significant differences in voting behaviour associated with educational attainment in most countries. On average, the gap in the voting rate between high- and low-educated adults is 14.8 percentage points. This gap is particularly wide among young adults with a difference of 26.8 percentage points

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