GERMANY: Poor marks for higher education - OECD

The Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) maintains that Germany's contribution to the worldwide pool of highly qualified people is shrinking. Figures suggest that this could be due to too little money being spent on education.

Every US$42,000 invested in higher education in Germany yields public revenue of around $210,000, according to the latest OECD Education at a Glance study, which compares education in the 34 OECD member states.

The rate of return on higher education (income earned minus the opportunity cost of studying) was at 12% for men and 8% for women in 2007. Also, election turnout among highly qualified people stood at 95%, compared to just 77% among those without a certificate of higher secondary education or vocational training.

Presenting the results of the OECD report in Berlin Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education, commented that people were aware of how important education was not only for economic but also for social participation.

Quennet-Thielen maintained that being aware of such general benefits was also one of the reasons for the strong increase in the rate of first-year students.

At 46%, Germany's first-year student rate (the percentage of people who have studied for the first year of a higher education degree) peaked last year. However, the OECD average was 59% and in the OECD's ranking of its member countries in this respect, Germany appears well towards the bottom.

According to Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD's department for education indicators and analysis, "the number of highly qualified people in Germany has risen comparatively slowly over the last few decades".

Germany also fares poorly in a comparison of the percentage of people with a first higher education degree. While Germany managed to double its level of 14% in 1995 to 28% in 2009 and is expecting further increases due to rising student numbers, the OECD average grew from 20% to 38% in the same period.

The share of public expenditure on higher education in Germany rose from 8.6% in 1995 to 10.4% in 2008, representing an above-average increase in the OECD survey.

"However, what is less satisfactory is that education spending in Germany measured against total public expenditure of the gross domestic product is still below the international average," said Johanna Wanka, Lower Saxony's Minister of Higher Education and Cultural Affairs.

The OECD average for 2008 was 5.9% of GDP while Germany managed just 4.8% that year, way behind the Netherlands, UK, France and the US.

"The common goal of the federal and state governments therefore remains that of increasing spending on education and research up to 10 % of GDP by 2015," Wanka stressed, and she pledged that at state level efforts would be made to raise the number of study places.

New financial leeway resulting from demographic developments would be taken advantage of to improve education quality. Also, access to higher education for highly skilled people without a certificate of higher secondary education, such as master craftsmen, had to be made easier, Wanka maintained.

Commenting on the OECD results Cem Özdemir, leader of the opposition Green Party, said that "while other states are continuously and consistently investing in education, here in the country of poets and philosophers, of all places, there is a lack of academics and skilled staff".

However, Germany can also boast success in some areas.

For example, 84% of young people either hold an Abitur (higher secondary certificate) or have completed vocational training, and at 9.5% youth unemployment is relatively low.

Also, the federal ministry's Quennet-Thielen stressed that a third of all students have enrolled for MINT (mathematics, informatics, natural sciences and technology or engineering) subjects, which play a vital role in Germany's continuing good performance as a high-tech and engineering country.