GLOBAL: The world's talent pool is changing - OECD

Unabated expansion of higher education in developing countries and emerging economies has meant that the global graduate talent pool is no longer predominantly in the US and Europe, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Whereas one in four of the G20 and OECD countries' total pool of graduates is in the US, and another one in four is in the main European countries, America and Europe are losing their talent advantage.

China now accounts for 12% of graduates in advanced and emerging economies, with roughly 255 million people with university education, according to annual figures released today. This compares with Japan's 11% share of graduates.

Brazil, with 4% of graduates, is catching up with the UK, which has 5%. Korea is approaching Germany's 4.6% share of graduate talent and has overtaken France and Canada, which each have 3.6%.

The annual Education at a Glance 2011 figures for the first time include analysis of education systems in the emerging economies of Brazil, China, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa, alongside the figures for the 34 advanced economies of the OECD.

Higher education expansion has strong implications for the overall competitiveness of nations, according to Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's head of education statistics and indicators.

The more educated workforces of the US and Japan, which together have nearly half of all university educated adults of working age in the OECD, have given them a head start in many high-skilled areas.

However, from one in four graduates from the G20 graduate pool being in the US, the figure has dropped to one in five graduates newly entering the workforce.

While overall only 5% of adults in China have a university degree, due to restrictions on university education for decades, the huge rise of higher education in China and the sheer size of its population means that it is now just a few percentage points behind the US, at 18% of the emerging and advanced world's graduate talent newly entering the workforce, Schleicher said.

The OECD figures on the proportion of the world's working population with a university degree did not include India this time, giving China a high proportion of the global talent pool in the current analysis.

Based on numbers of pupils completing higher secondary education, and therefore qualified to go on to university, Schleicher predicted that the proportion of the world's graduate talent pool in China could reach around one in three of G20 and OECD graduates in a few years time while the US will see a further shrinkage of its slice of the global talent pie.

"Frankly the proportion of OECD countries in the global talent pool is shrinking," said Schleicher. "One of the hypotheses is that higher education has become so expensive for individuals in countries like the US that the composition of the global talent pool has changed."

Although the average quality of graduates in China may not be as high as in countries like the UK and US now, Schleicher added: "One mistake we should not make is to assume that countries that upgrade quantity cannot upgrade quality at similar speeds."

"A lot is happening in China. They are not just putting more people into the higher education system." In the most advanced countries the talent pool is continuing to grow, but not at China's fast rate.

"Based on current patterns of graduation it is estimated that an average of 46% of today's women and 31% of today's men in OECD countries will complete university education over their lifetimes - although only 39% of women and 25% of men will do so before the age of 30," said the OECD.

Meanwhile in countries like Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, with high proportions of international students, "graduation rates are artificially inflated", the OECD said, pointing out that all international graduates are by definition first time graduates regardless of their previous education in other countries.

While many international students have stayed on in the past, a reduction in the number allowed to remain, for example under new visa policies in the UK, could have a strong impact on the size of the graduate population in the country, further reducing these countries' share of the talent pool compared to countries in Asia.

In 2009 one in four foreign students in the UK converted their status from student to employed worker and decided to remain in the country. "The labour market and taxpayers are reaping the benefits of these additional highly educated workers without having incurred the cost of basic education," the OECD said.

When international students are excluded from the numbers in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, the overall graduation rates drop by a massive, 15%, 9% and 12% respectively. Overall graduation rates in Australia and the UK are around 48%, and in New Zealand they are close to 50%.

This effect was also evident in second degree programmes such as masters degrees in Australia and the UK, where graduation rates drop by 11% and 7% respectively when international graduates - those who cross borders expressly with the intention to study - are excluded, the OECD said.