Remarks by Angel Gurría,
15 September 2016
(As prepared for delivery)
Dear Commissioner Navracsics, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
I am very happy to be in Brussels to launch Education at a Glance 2016 alongside Commissioner Navracsics, who has been a great ally in the OECD’s efforts to track and foster educational progress.
For more than 25 years, this flagship publication has served as the authoritative source for education statistics and indicators around the world. At over 500 pages, the 2016 edition offers a bit more than ‘‘a glance’’! So let me highlight some of its key findings.
Education remains a key driver of individual well-being, social progress and inclusive growth. The evidence presented in Education at a Glance 2016 is overwhelming ─ employment, earnings, health outcomes, and life satisfaction are all closely linked to educational attainment and skills.
Across OECD countries, for example, a Master’s degree delivers a wage premium of 91% compared with upper secondary education alone. At an aggregate level, education contributes to stronger and better societies through the creation of wealth, through knowledge and innovation, through jobs, and through lower dependency on social welfare services. Over an individual’s lifetime, governments receive around EUR 100,000 more than they invest per graduate through greater tax revenues and social contributions!
Education at a Glance 2016 shows that governments are continuing to prioritise investments in education, despite the challenging fiscal context. Between 2008 and 2013, in OECD countries, real expenditure per student rose by 8% in primary to post-secondary non-tertiary education and 6% in tertiary education.
Governments are becoming more innovative in financing higher education in response to tight budgets ─ including by shifting costs to students and households. On average, around 30% of total spending in tertiary education comes from private sources across the OECD, ranging from 4% in Finland to 68% in Korea. Between 2008 and 2013, total private expenditure has increased by 14% across the OECD and by 12% in the EU22. In the interests of equity, we must keep a close eye on these trends. While some countries have created smart funding mechanisms, in which income-contingent loans and means‑tested grants leverage household spending to give more students better opportunities to study, others levy fees that put educational opportunities out-of-reach of all but the wealthiest students. This is not fair, and it is not right.
Despite the growth in education spending, Education at a Glance 2016 shows we are far from using education to its full potential. We see, for example, that investment in education does not benefit all cohorts equally. One in six 25-34 year-olds across the OECD lacks an upper secondary education. In the EU, young adults who have dropped out of upper secondary school face unemployment rates of 21.2%, compared with 8% for their tertiary‑educated peers. In a highly demanding and fast‑paced world, a lack of higher level skills comes at a big cost for families and society.
Gender imbalances also persist. While more women than men are now tertiary graduates, women remain underrepresented in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In 2014, on average, three times more men than women graduated with engineering degrees, while four times more women than men graduated with education degrees. The transition from school to work is also more challenging for women. Across OECD countries, 18.5% of 20-24 year-old women are NEETs (neither employed nor in education or training), compared to 15.5% of men.
In many countries, immigrants tend to lag behind their native‑born peers in educational attainment at all stages, which impedes their future integration in labour markets. Participation rates in pre-primary programmes ─ which are critical to the development of childrens’ cognitive, emotional and social skills ─ are considerably lower for immigrant children. The share of adults who have not completed upper secondary education is larger among those with an immigrant background. On average, 37% of 25‑44 year-olds with an immigrant background ─ but only 27% of 25-44 year-olds without an immigrant background ─ whose parents have not attained upper secondary education have not completed upper secondary education themselves. And students with an immigrant background are much less likely to complete Bachelor’s or equivalent tertiary programmes than native-born students.
To tackle some of these challenges, Education at a Glance 2016 helps to highlight areas where education investments could be better targeted to improve efficiency, quality and equity.
Class size is a case in point. Between 2005 and 2014, public pressure prompted governments to reduce class size in lower secondary education by 6%, even though PISA shows that high‑performing education systems have systematically prioritised better teachers over smaller classes.
These investments in reducing class size have consumed resources better spent on recruiting and rewarding high quality teachers. From 2005 to 2014, upper secondary teacher salaries increased by only 1% in real terms, and decreased in one-third of countries. Actual salaries for upper-secondary teachers are only 89% of the earnings received by other tertiary‑educated workers. They deserve better!
This edition also highlights other areas where we need to improve. Supporting our principals. Attracting younger adults to the teaching profession. And, of course, ensuring all students ─ particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds ─ have access to quality education, which is a pending agenda. Quality education, along with improving the equity of educational opportunities, is essential for delivering better work and life outcomes for all!
For the first time, this year’s edition of Education at a Glance captures country progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education. The results are sobering. Of the 35 OECD Member countries, only 12 with available data are meeting the benchmark level for at least five of the ten targets. Australia and Canada are on top globally, with Belgium and the Netherlands leading the ranks in the EU. However, many EU countries are lagging behind both in terms of measurement and in achieving the targets. The targets related to the quality of learning outcomes and skills of students and adults seem to be particularly hard to crack.
We have been invited to present and discuss our methodology ─ which will be subject to continuous improvement and refinement ─ with UNESCO’s Steering Group for the Sustainable Development Goals next month. Future editions of Education at a Glance will include more sophisticated indicators to monitor progress towards SDG 4 and give countries the best possible chance at meeting their targets.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Better education policies are indispensable to the well-being of our societies and to the development of our economies. In this respect, good policies depend on comprehensive, reliable and timely data.
Our Education at a Glance series, in partnership with PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and PIAAC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies), delivers the data we need to design, develop and deliver better education policies for better lives.