GLOBAL: More degrees for quicker recovery - OECD

The proportion of the population of the most-developed countries with
degree-level qualifications has increased dramatically over the past 10 years, according to the OECD. But the growth rate in the US and the UK is lower.

The increase between 1997 and 2006 across the 30 countries for which the OECD collects data averages 4.5% a year, Education at a Glance 2009 reveals. The average for the 25-64 year-old population rose from 20% in 1997 to 26% in 2006 and continued to increase to 27% in 2007, when one in three people aged 25-34 across the OECD countries had a tertiary level qualification. In Canada, Japan and Korea, the ratio was one in two.

Thirteen OECD countries exceeded the average, led by Poland, where the degree-education population grew from 10% in 1997 to 19% in 2007. The performance of the three former Eastern Bloc countries - Poland, the Slovak Republic and Hungary - and the Mediterranean EU member states of Italy, Portugal and Spain helped boost the EU proportion from 18% in 1997 to 24% 10 years later.

Australia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and the UK (with an average annual increase of 3.3%) are among countries lagging behind the OECD average. The UK now has fewer school leavers entering higher education than the Slovak republic, Ireland and Portugal, according to the report.

In the past seven years UK graduation rates have stalled at 39% and have been overtaken by 11 other countries, the OECD study comparing the education systems of developed countries found.

This is despite the OECD's evidence supporting the economic and social case for tertiary education. "The benefits clearly outweigh the costs in every country," Andreas Schleicher, head of the Indicators and Analysis Division at the OECD's Directorate for Education, said.

"Countries which want to position themselves for after the economic crisis should create sufficient places in university," Schleicher said. "It makes sense to create more places. It means more tax, better health, better participation in society ... For a young person today, the best way of investing their money remains in education."

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said: "As we emerge from the global economic crisis, demand for university education will be higher than ever. To the extent that institutions are able to respond, investments in human capital will contribute to recovery."

The report also gives the definitive picture on student mobility with more than three million tertiary students enrolled outside their country of citizenship in 2007, a 3.3% increase from the previous year in total foreign student intake reported to the OECD and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

France, Germany, the UK and the US receive 48% of all foreign students worldwide. Largest numbers from OECD countries are from France, Germany, Japan, Korea and the US. China and India contribute the largest numbers of international students from partner countries.

International students make up 10% or more of enrolments in tertiary education in Australia, Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland and the UK. At advanced research level, international students make up more than 20% of enrolments in advanced research programmes in Australia, Belgium, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland, the UK and the US.