Disappointing higher education attainment, says OECD

Only every fifth young German attains a higher education level than his or her parents, according to the OECD. In its annual Education at a Glance report, the OECD calls for a further expansion of the country’s higher education system.

Education at a Glance compares education in the 34 OECD member states and selected other countries.

On an OECD scale, only every tenth younger person does not achieve the education level of his or her parents, while more than every third younger person overtakes them. On average, 37% perform better than their parents, and just 13% fall below them.

In Germany, the OECD maintains, 22% of 25- to 34-year-olds have a lower education qualification than their parents, leaving Germany far behind many of the OECD member states. Only Slovakia and Estonia have poorer results in the study.

“If we want to combat social inequality, there is no way around education,” said OECD Education Director Barbara Ischinger. “There is still room to expand and develop the higher education sector regarding education participation.”

The presentation of the OECD results in Berlin sparked a row between Ischinger, Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, the state secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education, and Lower Saxony’s Education Minister Johanna Wanka.

As has been the case with previous OECD reports, the two German politicians referred to official German statistics suggesting much more favourable developments, with the share of young people with poorer education levels compared to their parents averaging at around 14%.

They also reiterated criticism of the report’s failing to take Germany’s dual system of vocational training into account.

The dual system, combining secondary school education and vocational training in apprenticeships, covers a wide range of areas incorporated in higher education in other countries.

“In England, you can do a degree course to become a hairdresser,” Quennet-Thielen scoffed in Berlin, maintaining that the study was in effect comparing apples and oranges. She also stressed that the dual system had become a model for many other countries pursuing education reforms.

Ischinger countered by pointing out that Germany itself had been involved in developing the indicators for the report.

However, Germany’s Education Minister Annette Schavan in a federal parliament debate called the OECD results “deceptive”, and referred to the dual training and education system as “the education policy anchor in the present crisis”.

According to the OECD, Germany still lags behind in terms of the share of higher education students per age cohort. At 42%, the latter compares particularly poorly with the OECD average of 62%.

Meanwhile, the shortage of graduates, especially in the engineering sciences, continues to worry industrial organisations, which have repeatedly warned that not having enough highly qualified labour could jeopardise the country’s competitiveness on the world market.