Education at a Glance

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

1999-1487 (online)
1563-051X (print)
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OECD's annual Education at a Glance looks at who participates in education, what is spent on it, how education systems operate and the results achieved. The latter includes indicators on a wide range of outcomes, from comparisons of students’ performance in key subject areas to the impact of education on earnings and on adults’ chances of employment. This book includes StatLinks, urls linking to Excel® spreadsheets containing the background data.

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Education at a Glance 2011

Education at a Glance 2011

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13 Sep 2011
9789264117051 (PDF) ;9789264114203(print)

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Across OECD countries, governments are having to work with shrinking public budgets while designing policies to make education more effective and responsive to growing demand. The 2011 edition of Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators enables countries to see themselves in the light of other countries’ performance. It provides a broad array of comparable indicators on education systems and represents the consensus of professional thinking on how to measure the current state of education internationally.

The indicators show who participates in education, how much is spent on it, and how education systems operate. They also illustrate a wide range of educational outcomes, comparing, for example, student performance in key subjects and the impact of education on earnings and on adults’ chances of employment. New material in this edition includes:

  • an analysis of tuition-fee reforms implemented since 1995;
  • indicators on the relationship between social background and learning outcomes;
  • indicators on school accountability in public and private schools;
  • an indicator on the fields of education chosen by students;
  • an indicator on labour market outcomes of students from vocational and academic programmes;
  • indicators on the scope of adult education and training;
  • indicators on student engagement in reading.

The Excel™ spreadsheets used to create the tables and charts in this book are available via the StatLinks provided throughout. The tables and charts, as well as the complete OECD Online Education Database, are freely available via the OECD Education website at

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Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Table of Contents

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  • Foreword
    Governments are paying increasing attention to international comparisons as they search for effective policies that enhance individuals’ social and economic prospects, provide incentives for greater efficiency in schooling, and help to mobilise resources to meet rising demands. As part of its response, the OECD Directorate for Education devotes a major effort to the development and analysis of the quantitative, internationally comparable indicators that it publishes annually in Education at a Glance. These indicators enable educational policy makers and practitioners alike to see their education systems in the light of other countries’ performances and, together with OECD’s country policy reviews, are designed to support and review the efforts that governments are making towards policy reform.
  • Editorial
    Since its early days, the OECD has emphasised the role of education and human capital in driving economic and social development; and in the half century since its founding, the pool of human capital in its member countries has developed dramatically. Access to education has expanded to the extent that the majority of people in OECD countries is now enrolled in education beyond basic, compulsory schooling. At the same time, countries have transformed the ways they look at educational outcomes, moving beyond a simplistic "more is better" perspective that simply measures investment and participation in education to one that encompasses the quality of the competencies that students ultimately acquire. In an increasingly global economy, in which the benchmark for educational success is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best performing education systems internationally, the role of the OECD has become central, providing indicators of educational performance that not only evaluate but also help shape public policy.
  • Introduction
    Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2011 offers a rich, comparable and up-to-date array of indicators that reflect a consensus among professionals on how to measure the current state of education internationally. The indicators provide information on the human and financial resources invested in education, on how education and learning systems operate and evolve, and on the returns to educational investments. The indicators are organised thematically, and each is accompanied by information on the policy context and the interpretation of the data.
  • Reader's Guide
    Although a lack of data still limits the scope of the indicators in many countries, the coverage extends, in principle, to the entire national education system (within the national territory), regardless of who owns or sponsors the institutions concerned and regardless of how education is delivered. With one exception (described below), all types of students and all age groups are included: children (including students with special needs), adults, nationals, foreigners, and students in open-distance learning, in special education programmes or in educational programmes organised by ministries other than the Ministry of Education, provided that the main aim of the programme is to broaden or deepen an individual’s knowledge. However, children below the age of 3 are only included if they participate in programmes that typically cater to children who are at least 3 years old. Vocational and technical training in the workplace, with the exception of combined school- and work-based programmes that are explicitly deemed to be parts of the education system, is not included in the basic education expenditure and enrolment data.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts The Output of Educational Institutions and the Impact of Learning

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    • To what level have adults studied?
      In this publication, different indicators show the level of education among individuals, groups and countries. Indicator A1 shows the level of attainment, i.e. the percentage of a population that has reached a certain level of education. Graduation rates in Indicators A2 and A3 measure the estimated percentage of young adults who graduate from this level of education during their lifetimes. Successful completion of upper secondary programmes in Indicator A2 estimates the proportion of students who enter a programme and complete it successfully (see Box A2.1). Educational attainment is a commonly used proxy for the stock of human capital – that is, the skills available in the population and the labour force. Following a decline in demand for manual labour and for basic cognitive skills that can be replicated by computers, recent trends show sharp increases in the demand for complex communication and advanced analytical skills. These trends generally favour a more educated labour force, and the demand for education is thus increasing at a rapid pace in many countries. While the economic crisis increased the speed of change, it is also bolstering incentives for individuals to invest in education, as worsening prospects in the labour market lower some of the costs of education, such as earnings foregone while studying.
    • How many students finish secondary education?
      Upper secondary education provides the basis for advanced learning and training opportunities and prepares some students for direct entry into the labour market. Graduation rates discussed here do not assume that an education system has adequately equipped its graduates with the basic skills and knowledge necessary to enter the labour market, because this indicator does not capture the quality of educational outcomes. However, these rates do give an indication of the extent to which education systems succeed in preparing students to meet the labour market’s minimum requirements.
    • How many students finish tertiary education?
      Tertiary graduation rates indicate a country’s capacity to produce workers with advanced, specialised knowledge and skills. In OECD countries, there are strong incentives to obtain a tertiary qualification, including higher salaries and better employment prospects. Tertiary education varies widely in structure and scope among countries, and graduation rates are influenced by both the degree of access to these programmes and the demand for higher skills in the labour market. Expanding tertiary education while maintaining quality is likely to create pressures for current levels of tertiary spending to be maintained or increased.
    • To which fields of education are students attracted?
      Faced with an economic downturn and shrinking budgets, governments need to invest in the fields of education that respond to labour-market needs. Parents and students, too, need to choose prospective fields carefully. The choice is sometimes made early in a child’s education, such as when children are directed towards vocational or academic programmes or, later on, if they decide to pursue tertiary studies. Students’ preferences and abilities, and the cost, duration and location of higher education can all influence the choice of a field of study, as can changes in the labour market, differences in potential earnings among occupations and sectors, and admissions policies and practices of tertiary education institutions. In turn, the relative popularity of various fields of education affects the demand for programmes and teaching staff, as well as the supply of new graduates.
    • Does student background affect student performance?
      In trying to provide students with equitable learning opportunities, education systems aim to reduce the extent to which a student’s socio-economic background affects his or her performance in school. Performance differences that are related to student background are evident in every country. But PISA results show that some countries have been more successful than others in mitigating the impact of socio-economic background on students’ performance in reading. In general, students with an immigrant background are socio-economically disadvantaged, and this explains part of the performance disadvantage among these students. They face considerable challenges in reading and other aspects of education. In general, they tend to show lower levels of performance even after their socio-economic background is taken into account.
    • Are students who enjoy reading better readers?
      Students who enjoy reading, and therefore make it a regular part of their lives, are able to build their reading skills through practice. PISA shows strong associations between reading enjoyment and performance. This does not mean that results show that enjoyment of reading has a direct impact on reading scores; rather, the finding is consistent with research showing that such enjoyment is an important precondition for becoming an effective reader. Therefore, to bolster reading performance, schools need to both instruct students in reading techniques and foster an interest in reading.
    • How does educational attainment affect participation in the labour market?
      OECD countries’ economies and labour markets depend upon a sufficient supply of well-educated workers. Indicators related to labour-market outcomes by educational attainment show how well the supply of skills matches demand. However, most education programmes have a long time horizon, while shifts in the demand for labour can occur rapidly. The pace of this change has been accentuated by the recent economic downturn.
    • What are the earnings premiums from education?
      One way that labour markets provide incentives for individuals to develop and maintain skills is through earnings. The earnings premium realised by those with higher levels of education is not only an incentive to invest in education but also says something about the supply of and demand for education. High and rising earnings premiums can indicate that more highly educated individuals are in short supply; the opposite is true for low and falling premiums. Relative earnings, and trend data on the earnings premium in particular, are thus important indicators of the match between the education system and the labour market.
    • What are the incentives to invest in education?
      The financial benefits of completing higher levels of education motivate individuals to postpone consumption today for future rewards. From a policy perspective, awareness of economic incentives is crucial to understanding how individuals move through the education system. Large shifts in the demand for education can drive up earnings and returns considerably before supply catches up. This provides a strong signal, both to individuals and to the education system, of the need for additional investment.
    • How expensive are graduates to hire?
      The skills available in the labour force, and the price of those skills, determine how countries will fare in the global market. OECD countries face increasing competition in the lower and, more recently, mid-range skills segments. But even at these levels, many countries maintain a competitive advantage through technological advances, innovation and capital investments that boost productivity levels.
    • What are the social outcomes of education?
      There is growing interest in looking beyond the traditional economic measures of individual success, such as income, employment and GDP per capita, towards non-economic aspects of well-being and social progress, such as life satisfaction, civic engagement and health. Recent initiatives, such as the Stiglitz-Sen Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress and the World Health Organization’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health, have been prompted by concerns that society is not as cohesive as it should be and that citizens are not as healthy and happy as they deserve to be. Several OECD countries have seen a decline in indicators of civic engagement, such as voting, volunteering and interpersonal trust, changes that may well have significant and lasting consequences for the quality of democratic societies (OECD, 2010).
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Financial and Human Resources Invested In Education

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    • How much is spent per student?
      The demand for high-quality education, which can translate into higher costs per student, must be balanced against other demands on public expenditure and the overall burden of taxation. Policy makers must also balance the importance of improving the quality of educational services with the desirability of expanding access to educational opportunities, notably at the tertiary level.
    • What proportion of national wealth is spent on education?
      Expenditure on educational institutions is an investment that can help foster economic growth, enhance productivity, contribute to personal and social development, and reduce social inequality. Relative to GDP, expenditure on educational institutions indicates the priority a country gives to education. The proportion of a country’s total financial resources devoted to education is the result of choices made by governments, enterprises, and individual students and their families, and is partially influenced by enrolments in education. Given that expenditure on education largely comes from public budgets, it is closely scrutinised by governments, particularly at times when governments are being urged to cut spending.
    • How much public and private investment in education is there?
      The balance of private and public financing of education is an important policy issue in many OECD countries. It is particularly important for pre-primary and tertiary education, for which full or nearly full public funding is less common.
    • What is the total public spending on education?
      Public expenditure on education, as a percentage of total public expenditure, indicates the extent to which governments prioritise education in relation to other areas of investment, such as health care, social security, defence and security. If the public benefits from a particular service are greater than the private benefits, markets alone may fail to provide that service adequately and governments may need to become involved. Education is one area in which all governments intervene to fund or direct services. As there is no guarantee that markets will provide equal access to education opportunities, government funding ensures that education is not beyond the reach of some members of society.
    • How much do tertiary students pay and what public subsidies do they receive?
      Policy decisions on tuition fees charged by educational institutions affect both the cost of tertiary education to students and the resources available to tertiary institutions. Subsidies to students and their families also serve as a way for governments to encourage participation in education – particularly among low-income students – by covering part of the cost of education and related expenses.
    • On what resources and services is education funding spent?
      Decisions taken at the system level about how resources are allocated can affect the nature of instruction and the conditions in which it is provided at the classroom level. Educational institutions offer a range of services in addition to instruction, such as meals and free transport or boarding facilities at the primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education. At the tertiary level, institutions may offer housing services and often conduct a wide range of research activities.
    • Which factors influence the level of expenditure?
      The relationship between the resources devoted to education and the outcomes achieved has been the focus of much education policy debate in recent years as governments seek to provide more and better education for the entire population. At the same time, given the increasing pressure on public budgets, there is intense interest in ensuring that funding – public funding, in particular – is directed so as to achieve the desired outcomes as efficiently as possible.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Access to Education, Participation and Progression

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    • Who participates in education?
      According to results from PISA, children who participated in early childhood education tend to perform better in the PISA survey at age 15 than children who did not, after controlling for socioeconomic background (OECD, 2010b). Over the past decade, many countries have expanded pre-primary programmes. This increased focus on early childhood education has resulted in the extension of compulsory education to lower ages in some countries, free early childhood education, and the creation of programmes that integrate care with formal pre-primary education.
    • How many students will enter tertiary education?
      Entry rates estimate the proportion of people who will enter a specific type of tertiary education programme during their lifetimes. They also indicate the accessibility of tertiary education and the perceived value of attending tertiary programmes, and provide some indication of the degree to which a population is acquiring the high-level skills and knowledge valued by today’s labour market. High entry and participation rates in tertiary education imply that a highly educated labour force is being developed and maintained.
    • Who studies abroad and where?
      As national economies become more interconnected and participation in education expands, governments and individuals are looking to higher education to broaden students’ horizons and help them to better understand the world’s languages, cultures and business methods. One way for students to expand their knowledge of other societies and languages, and thus improve their prospects in globalised sectors of the labour market, such as multi-national corporations or research, is to study in tertiary education institutions in countries other than their own.
    • Transition from school to work: Where are the 15-29 year-olds?
      Even in the best of times, the transition from education to work is a complex process, affected by such variables as the length and quality of the schooling received, national traditions, the state of the labour market, economic conditions and demography. For example, in Belgium and France, young people traditionally complete schooling before they look for work; while in Germany and Sweden, education and employment are usually concurrent. The ageing of the OECD population and the decline in the population of 15-29 year-olds in OECD countries favour employment among young adults.
    • How many adults participate in education and learning?
      Investing in education and training after leaving initial education is essential for upgrading the skills of the labour force. Globalisation and the development of new technologies have broadened the international marketplace for goods and services. As a result, competition for skills is fierce, particularly in high-growth, high-technology markets. An ever-larger segment of the population must be able to adapt to changing technologies, and to learn and apply a new set of skills tailored to meet the needs of the growing services industries, in order to function effectively. Adult learning, as part of lifelong learning, is considered crucial for coping with the challenges of economic competitiveness and demographic change, and for combating unemployment, poverty and social exclusion, which marginalise a significant number of individuals in all countries.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts The Learning Environment and Organisation of Schools

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    • How much time do students spend in the classroom?
      Instruction time in formal classroom settings accounts for a large portion of public investment in student learning and is a central component of effective schooling. The amount of instruction time and after-school lessons available to students is an important indication of students’ opportunities to learn. Matching resources with students’ needs and making optimal use of time are central to education policy. The main costs of education are the use and deployment of teachers, institutional maintenance and other educational resources. The length of time during which these resources are made available to students (as partly shown in this indicator) is thus an important factor in determining how funds for education are allocated (see Indicator B7).
    • What is the student-teacher ratio and how big are classes?
      Class size and student-teacher ratios are much-discussed aspects of education and, along with students’ total instruction time (see Indicator D1), teachers’ average working time (see Indicator D4), and the division of teachers’ time between teaching and other duties, are among the determinants of the size of countries’ teaching force. Together with teachers’ salaries (see Indicator D3) and the age distribution of teachers (see Indicator D7, available on line), class size and student-teacher ratios also have a considerable impact on the level of current expenditure on education (see Indicator B6).
    • How much are teachers paid?
      Teachers’ salaries represent the largest single cost in school education. Burgeoning national debt, spurred by governments’ responses to the financial crisis of late 2008, have put pressure on policy makers to reduce government expenditure – particularly on public payrolls. Since compensation and working conditions are important for attracting, developing and retaining skilled and high-quality teachers, policy makers should carefully consider teachers’ salaries as they try to ensure both quality teaching and balanced education budgets (see Indicators B6 and B7).
    • How much time do teachers spend teaching?
      Although statutory working hours and teaching hours only partly determine teachers’ actual workload, they do give valuable insight into the demands placed on teachers in different countries. Together with teachers’ salaries (see Indicator D3) and average class size (see Indicator D2), this indicator presents some key measures regarding the working lives of teachers. Teaching hours and the extent of non-teaching duties may also affect the attractiveness of the teaching profession.
    • How are schools held accountable?
      Accountability literally means "to take account of". It refers to the interaction in a hierarchical relationship between those who have power and those who are delegated authority. Those who are delegated authority have to account for what they are doing with this authority or responsibility.
    • How equal are educational outcomes and opportunities?
      Over the past twenty years, the demand for workers with strong literacy skills has grown, while jobs for low-skilled workers are becoming harder to find. Young people who do not acquire strong literacy skills during their primary and secondary education are considered vulnerable in that they are at greater risk of being unemployed, developing physical and mental health problems, and participating in criminal activities.
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