Rising fees saw enrolments also increase

One problem with the OECD Education at a Glance reports is that, because of the time required to collect, collate and release the data on which their commentaries are based, the data can be seriously out of date.

This is especially the case if there are more recent government changes in funding, rising tuition fees, and changes to the amount of student support available, which impact on family decisions to enrol an offspring at university.

This is particularly pertinent to the OECD 2013 report on the United Kingdom, where the latest information it presents is up to 2010 or 2011. A great deal has happened since then and readers have to take this into account in reading such facts as “tertiary level expenditure per student grew by 38% between 2000 and 2010 while the number of students increased by 18%, such that spending per student is now significantly higher than it was in 2000”.

But the report does make the point that while spending grew faster than student numbers between 2000 and 2005, the reverse occurred between 2005 and 2010 – such that expenditure per student decreased slightly (by 3%) between 2005 and 2010, whereas on average among OECD countries it grew by 8% over the same period.

On average during the academic year 2010-11, government-dependent private institutions charged almost US$5,000 in tuition fees for a first degree although, the report notes, this figure does not encompass the important rise in fees during the following academic year.

It notes that in the UK, public support for households and other private entities is distributed three ways almost equally: 32.3% on direct public expenditure for institutions; 33.8% on financial aid for students (eg as scholarships, student loans and other grants to households); and 33.9% on transfers and payments to other private entities.

“It would be conceivable the rise in tuition fees between 2005 and 2011 might have led to a decline in student numbers and graduation rates. However, the data suggest the opposite: in the UK tertiary graduation rates rose to 55% in 2011, the second highest after Poland, and way above the OECD average of 39%. This rate has increased over the past decade, from 42% in 2000 to 47% in 2005 and 51% in 2010.”

The report says the net gain (benefits minus costs) for obtaining a tertiary education in the UK in 2009 was US$98,091 for a man and US$93,333 for a woman. Over the course of his life, the net private return to a man with this level of education was calculated at US$180,560 while public return was calculated at US$98,091.

On average among OECD countries, the net public return reaches US$104,737 and is even US$251,155 in Hungary and US$230,722 in the US.

But the report says these figures do not take into consideration repayment of student loans, which may affect the data on returns, especially during the years immediately after leaving education.

Furthermore, in 2011 a graduate’s earnings from employment were 57% higher than those of an individual with upper secondary education, and 129% higher than those with below upper secondary education. This trend has remained stable over the past decade.

The UK’s share of the international student market grew from 11% in 2000 to 13% in 2011, and the country is the second preferred destination among international students after the US. The report says these students contributed a total of €2.6 billion in tuition fees and €2.7 billion in living expenses in 2008-09. In 2010, 21% of international students remained in the UK after they had graduated.

“As in most OECD countries, the proportion of people without upper secondary education in the UK has been shrinking while the proportion with a tertiary education has been growing over the past decade.

"The proportion of 15- to 19-year-olds enrolled in education increased by about 8 percentage points between 2006 (70%) and 2011 (78%) – more than twice the OECD average increase (81% to 84%) during the same period, although still behind by a considerable margin.

“This increase is also larger than those observed in other EU21 countries, although many of these countries have higher enrolment rates to begin with, such as France which held its 84% enrolment rate stable during that period and Germany, whose enrolment rate increased by 3 percentage points, from 89% in 2006 to 92% in 2011,” the report states.