Entry and graduation rates still poor

The OECD has praised Germany for its employment record during the economic crisis. But it still sees a need for the country to raise entry and graduation rates in higher education.

Only a handful of countries managed to maintain or even reduce unemployment rates over the past few years, among them Austria, Switzerland and Turkey. In Germany, the share of young people who were neither employed nor participating in education or training programmes fell from 12% in 2008 to 11% in 2011, compared with the OECD average of around 16%.

But Germany’s seemingly formidable employment record rests largely on a considerable low-pay sector, where many employees have to rely on additional government support to make a living. And large numbers of young people are attending transitional programmes that only later feed into proper vocational training or other education programmes.

Nevertheless, the OECD’s 2013 Education at a Glance report clearly demonstrates that academics in Germany can reckon with good employment prospects. Just 2.4% of higher education graduates were unemployed in 2011, compared to the OECD average of 4.8%.

According to Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s deputy director for education and skills, “things have been happening in Germany”. Schleicher pointed to a 16% increase in higher education entry numbers between 2000, when they were at 30%, and 2011. And statistics have been picking up in mathematics, computer science and natural and engineering sciences too.

These are areas where industry has voiced a certain amount of concern in recent years. Above all, more and more women are going for these subjects: they accounted for 59% of graduates from mathematics and statistics programmes in 2011, compared to 42% in 2000.

Germany now also boasts good results in terms of doctorates, with 2.7% of a first-degree cohort having completed a doctorate in 2011. Only Switzerland and Sweden fared better in this regard, at 3.2% and 2.8% respectively.

Germany also appears to be attractive to academics from abroad, who account for a large share of doctorates.

And Germany is the third most popular country of destination for students from abroad, after the US and the UK, with 7.9% of its enrolled students being foreign – a bigger share than the OECD average of 6.9%. At 4.8%, German students are also more internationally mobile compared to the 2% OECD average.

“The OECD statistics show that a higher education degree or successful vocational training continues to be the best insurance against unemployment,” said Federal Education Minister Johanna Wanka.

Stephan Dorgerloh, president of the ministers of cultural affairs responsible for education in Germany’s federal states, added that “the figures demonstrate a steady upward trend in the German education system on an international scale”.

Academic salary rates have increased by more than 20% compared to other professional groups over the past 10 years. Men holding an academic degree now earn 161% more than the holder of a general or subject-restricted university entrance qualification, the figure being 155% for women.

Schleicher noted that Germany is lagging behind the OECD’s average in terms of equal pay rates for men and women. But more generally, he maintained that the high salary levels clearly reflect a lack of highly qualified people in the country.

In Germany, 75% of students enrolling in higher education are successful – above the OECD average completion rate of 70%. But Schleicher stressed that a higher education degree is worthwhile both for the individual and for the country as a whole, which is why he attaches so much importance to participation in higher education.

In terms of its 2011 entry rate of 46%, though, Germany still compares poorly with the OECD average of 60%.

The OECD regards graduation rates – the percentage of graduates per cohort of the total population – as the key to a country’s success. Germany, however, only reaches 26%, well below the OECD average of 39%. But German officials have repeatedly criticised the OECD exercise for comparing countries where entirely different courses may be included in higher education programmes, the foreign example Germany often cites in this regard being midwifery.