Highlights from Education at a Glance

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

2076-264X (online)
2076-2631 (print)
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Highlights from Education at a Glance offers a reader-friendly introduction to the OECD’s collection of internationally comparable data on education. As the name suggests, it is derived from Education at a Glance, the OECD’s flagship compendium of education statistics. However, it differs from that publication in a number of ways, most significantly in its structure, which is made up of five sections that explore the following topics: education levels and student numbers; the economic benefits of education; paying for education;  the school environment; and  TALIS,  OECD's internationally comparative data on conditions of teaching and learning.

In general, this publication uses the same terminology employed in Education at a Glance. However, in one or two places terminology has been simplified. Readers who wish to find out more should consult the Reader’s Guide. Tables and charts in this volume are all accompanied by a dynamic hyperlink, or StatLink, that will direct readers to an Internet site where the corresponding data are available in Excel® format.

Also available in French
Highlights from Education at a Glance 2008

Highlights from Education at a Glance 2008 You or your institution have access to this content

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

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20 Feb 2009

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Highlights from Education at a Glance 2008 is a new companion publication to the OECD’s flagship compendium of education statistics, Education at a Glance. It provides easily accessible data on key topics in education today, including:

·         Education levels and student numbers: How far have adults studied, and what access do young people have to education?

·         The economic benefits of education: How does education affect people’s job prospects and what is its impact on incomes? 

·         Paying for education: What share of public spending goes on education, and what is the role of private spending?

·         The school environment: How many hours do teachers work and how does class size vary?

·         PISA: A special section introduces findings from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which examines the abilities of 15-year-old students in 57 countries and territories.

Each indicator is presented on a two-page spread. The left-hand page explains the significance of the indicator, discusses the main findings, examines key trends and provides readers with a roadmap for finding out more in the OECD’s education databases and in other OECD education publications. The right-hand page contains clearly presented charts and tables, accompanied by dynamic hyperlinks (StatLinks) that direct readers to the corresponding data in Excel™ format.

Highlights from Education at a Glance 2008 is an ideal introduction to the OECD’s unrivalled collection of internationally comparable data on education and learning.

Also available in French
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  • Foreword
    Highlights from Education at a Glance 2008 offers a reader-friendly introduction to the OECD’s collection of internationally comparable data on education.
  • Reader's Guide
    Education systems vary considerably from country to country, including the ages at which students typically begin and end each phase of schooling, the duration of courses, and what students are taught and expected to learn. These variations greatly complicate the compilation of internationally comparable statistics on education. In response, the United Nations created an International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), which provides a basis for comparing different education systems and a standard terminology.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Education Levels and Student Numbers

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    • To what level have adults studied?
      Education is important for both the present, giving individuals the knowledge and skills to participate fully and effectively in society, and for the future, as it helps expand scientific and cultural knowledge. This indicator shows the level to which adults have studied, a measure that is often used as a proxy to illustrate "human capital," or the skills available in a population and labour force.
    • What subjects did adults study in tertiary education?
      This indicator examines the distribution of skills in the population, particularly the skills that young people are bringing with them as they enter the labour market and the skills the labour market is losing as older workers retire.
    • Who participates in education?
      A well-educated population is essential to a country’s economic and social development, so societies have a real interest in ensuring that children and adults have access to a wide range of educational opportunities. This indicator examines access to education, and its evolution, from 1995 to 2006. It looks mainly at when children begin their education and how long they remain in schooling. At the other end of the scale, it looks at the number of young people who continue studying once compulsory education has ended.
    • How many secondary students go on to tertiary education?
      This indicator shows how many students finish secondary education and then make the transition into tertiary education. Completing upper secondary education does not in itself guarantee that students are adequately equipped with the basic skills and knowledge necessary to enter the labour market or tertiary studies. However, research has shown that young people in OECD countries who do not finish secondary education face severe difficulties when it comes to finding work.
    • How many students enrol in vocational programmes?
      The increasing number of young people in upper secondary education means that countries have to cater to a more diverse student population at that level. In response, countries usually offer a variety of programmes, ranging from the largely academic to the largely vocational, which aim to prepare students to enter an occupation either directly or following further training (see definitions accompanying the table on the opposite page). Vocational programmes may be largely school-based or centred on apprenticeships in the workplace. This indicator shows the participation of students in vocational education and training at the upper secondary level.
    • How many young people graduate from tertiary education?
      Tertiary education serves as an indicator of the rate at which countries produce advanced knowledge. Countries with high graduation rates at tertiary level are also those most likely to be developing or maintaining a highly skilled labour force. Graduation rates from tertiary education (which varies widely in structure and scope) are influenced both by the degree of access to tertiary programmes and by the demand for higher skills in the labour market.
    • How many students drop out of tertiary education?
      Dropping out is not necessarily an indication of an individual student’s failure: in some countries, even a year of tertiary-level education may significantly improve a student’s job-market prospects, while in others students may be able to retain credits from an initial period of study and then complete their studies after entering the workforce. However, high dropout rates may be an important indicator of problems in educational systems: courses may not be meeting students’ educational expectations or their labour market needs, and may run for longer than students can justify being outside the labour market.
    • How do men and women differ in education levels?
      Across OECD countries, girls and women are establishing their place alongside boys and men in upper levels of education. It appears that public policies over the past 20 years that have tried to foster equality in education have made a significant impact on young women’s motivation and expectations.
    • How successful are students in moving from education to work?
      This indicator shows the number of years young people can be expected to spend in education, employment and non-employment. During the past decade, young people have spent more time in initial education, delaying their entry into the workforce. Part of this additional time is spent combining work and study. The influence of the labour market on education, and vice versa, is both strong and complex.
    • How much training are adults doing?
      Given ageing populations and the demand for different skills to cope with new technologies, globalisation and organisational changes, lifelong learning has become a necessity in OECD countries as workers strive to remain relevant in the labour force. This indicator examines the extent to which adults participate in non-formal job-related education and training (referred to subsequently as "job training"; see also "Definitions" below).
    • How many students study abroad?
      This indicator looks at the extent to which students are studying abroad. One way for students to expand their knowledge of other cultures and languages, and to better equip themselves in an increasingly globalised labour market, is to pursue their higher-level education in countries other than their own. Some countries, particularly in the European Union, have even established policies and schemes that promote such mobility to foster intercultural contacts and help build social networks.
    • Where do students go to study?
      This indicator describes students’ preferred destinations and the impact of tuition fees on their decision of where to study abroad. Tuition fees are also an issue for destination countries amid a growing realisation of the trade benefits of international education. More of them are beginning to charge the full cost of education to their international students.
    • Is there a blue-collar barrier in higher education?
      This indicator examines the occupational status (white collar or blue collar) and the educational status of tertiary students’ fathers in some European countries. Opening access to higher education is not only a matter of equity but also a way to broaden the pool of candidates for high-skilled jobs and to increase countries’ overall competitiveness. In many countries, however, far fewer young people from blue-collar backgrounds study in higher education.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts The Economic Benefits of Education

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    • How much more do tertiary graduates earn?
      This indicator examines the relative earnings of workers with different levels of education. Although higher levels of education are strongly linked to raised incomes, evidence suggests that some individuals might be receiving relatively low returns on their investment in education – that is, they earn relatively low wages even though they have relatively high levels of education.
    • How does education affect employment rates?
      This indicator examines the relationship between education and employment. The better educated individuals are, the more likely they are to be employed. As populations in OECD countries age, higher levels of education and longer participation in employment can help to ensure more people are economically active and help to alleviate the burden of financing public pension schemes.
    • What are the incentives for people to invest in education?
      The efforts people make to continue education after compulsory schooling can be thought of as an investment with the potential to bring rewards in the form of future financial returns. People invest in education in several ways: directly, through the payment of tuition fees, for example, and indirectly, by sacrificing potential income when they are in college and not in work. As with any investment, a rate of return can be calculated. In this case, the rate of return is driven mainly by the reality that people with higher levels of education earn more (see Figure 2.1) and are more likely to be in work (see Figure 2.2). Where the rate of return is high, it implies a real financial incentive for people to continue their education. In terms of public policy, it may also indicate a scarcity of highly educated people in the labour force. Policy responses may include widening access to education and making greater use of loans, rather than direct subsidies, to fund higher education.
    • What are the incentives for societies to invest in education?
      The economic benefits of education flow not just to individuals but also to governments through additional tax receipts when people enter the labour market. These public returns, which take into account the fact that providing education is also a cost to governments, offer an additional perspective on the overall returns to education. Of course, they must also be understood in the much wider context of the benefits that societies gain from raising levels of education.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Paying for Education

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    • How much is spent per student?
      This indicator shows the levels of public and private spending on education. In current debates about learning, the demand for high-quality education, which may mean spending more per student, is often tempered by the desire not to raise taxes. While it is difficult to determine the level of spending needed to prepare a student for work and life, international comparisons can be helpful in assessing the effectiveness of different types of education systems. (For trends in spending, see overleaf.)
    • Has spending per student increased?
      This indicator looks at whether spending on education has increased – or otherwise – in recent years. Policy makers are under constant pressure to find ways of improving the quality of educational services while expanding access to educational opportunities, notably at the tertiary level. Over time, spending on educational institutions does indeed tend to rise, in large part because teachers’ salaries rise in line with general earnings. However, if rising unit costs are not accompanied by increasing outcomes, it raises the spectre of falling productivity levels.
    • What share of national wealth is spent on education?
      This indicator shows the proportion of a nation’s wealth that is invested in education. In other words, it shows to what extent a country, which includes the government, private enterprise and individual students and their families, prioritises education in relation to overall spending.
    • What share of public spending goes on education?
      Public spending on education, as a percentage of total public spending, indicates the value placed on education relative to that of other public investments, such as health care, social security, and defence and national security. Since the second half of the 1990s, education has had to compete with a wide range of other areas covered by government budgets for public financial support. This indicator evaluates the change in spending on education both in absolute terms and relative to changes in the size of public budgets.
    • What is the role of private spending?
      Private funding is increasingly seen as forming a part of investment in education, particularly for preprimary and tertiary education, where full or nearly full public funding is less common than for other levels of education. This indicator shows how the financing of educational institutions is shared between public and private entities, particularly at the tertiary level.
    • How much do tertiary students pay?
      This indicator examines the relationships between annual tuition fees, direct and indirect public spending on education, and public subsidies for student living costs. Governments can address issues of access to and equality of education opportunities by subsidising tuition fees and financially aiding students and their families, particularly students from low-income families. But how this aid is given – whether through grants or loans – is a subject for debate in many countries.
    • What are education funds spent on?
      This indicator shows how OECD countries spend their funds for education, including the split between capital expenditure, which is one-off spending on things like school buildings, and current expenditure, which is recurring spending on things like teacher salaries. How spending is apportioned, both between current and capital outlays and within these categories, can affect the quality of services, the condition of facilities, and the ability of education systems to adjust to changing demographic and enrolment trends.
    • How efficiently are resources used in education?
      This indicator examines the relationship between resources invested and outcomes achieved in upper secondary education across OECD countries. With increasing pressure on public budgets, there is growing interest in ensuring that funding, particularly public funding, for education is used as efficiently and effectively as possible.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts The School Environment

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    • How long do students spend in the classroom?
      This indicator examines the amount of time students spend in formal education between the ages of 7 and 15. The choices that countries make about how much time should be devoted to education and which subjects should be compulsory reflect national education priorities. Since a large part of public investment in education goes to instruction time in formal classroom settings, the length of time students spend in school is an important factor in determining the amount of funding that should be devoted to education.
    • How many students are in each classroom?
      This indicator examines the number of students per class at the primary and lower secondary levels, and the ratio of students to teachers at all levels. Class size is a hotly debated topic in many OECD countries. While smaller classes are often perceived as enabling a higher quality of education, evidence on the impact of class size on student performance is mixed.
    • How much are teachers paid?
      This indicator shows the starting, mid-career and maximum statutory salaries of teachers in public primary and secondary education. Since teachers’ salaries are the largest single cost in education, teacher compensation is a critical consideration for policy-makers seeking to maintain both the quality of teaching and a balanced education budget.
    • How much time do teachers spend teaching?
      This indicator examines the time teachers spend teaching and doing non-teaching work, such as preparing lessons and assessing students. Although working time and teaching time only partly determine teachers’ actual workload, they do provide valuable insight into differences in what is demanded of teachers in different countries and so may be related to the attractiveness of teaching as a profession. The amount of time teachers spend teaching is also one of the factors that affect the financial resources countries need to allocate to education.
    • Who are the teachers?
      This indicator presents a profile of the teaching workforce. Getting a better understanding of the teaching workforce means countries can anticipate teacher shortages and work to improve the teaching profession’s attractiveness as a career choice.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Special Section: Introducing PISA

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    • What is PISA?

      PISA seeks to measure how well students who are nearing the end of compulsory education are prepared to meet the challenges of today’s knowledge societies – what PISA refers to as "literacy". The aim of the assessment is not to judge the extent to which students have mastered a specific school curriculum. Rather, it focuses on young people’s ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges.

      The tests involve a sample of 15-year-old students in each country, who complete pencil-and-paper measuring reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. Students also fill in questionnaires about themselves, which cover a range of questions, including their attitudes to learning and their family background, while their principals complete questionnaires about their schools.

    • What can students do in science?
      This indicator examines the scientific literacy of 15-year-old students and draws on data from the 2006 PISA round, in which science was the major focus. Given the pervasiveness of science, mathematics and technology in modern life, it has become increasingly important for adults to be literate in these subjects in order to maximise their employment and earnings prospects and to participate fully in society.
    • What can students do in reading?
      This indicator examines the reading skills of 15-yearold students in the 2006 PISA round. PISA defines reading literacy as the ability to understand, use and reflect on written texts in order to achieve one’s goals, develop one’s knowledge and potential, and participate in society. This definition goes beyond the traditional notion of decoding information and literal interpretation of what is written towards more applied tasks.
    • What can students do in mathematics?
      This indicator looks at the performance of 15-year-old students in the assessment of mathematics skills in the 2006 PISA round. PISA uses a concept of mathematical literacy that is concerned with the capacity of students to analyse, reason and communicate effectively as they pose, solve and interpret mathematical problems in a variety of situations involving quantitative, spatial, probabilistic or other mathematical concepts.
    • How do girls and boys do in science?
      This indicator shows the difference in performance between 15-year-old boys and girls in the PISA 2006 assessment of science literacy, which was a special focus in this most recent round of PISA. Performance was measured in three different skills: identifying scientific issues, using scientific evidence, and explaining phenomena scientifically. In many countries, the differences between genders were small compared to the differences within genders. However, overall performance could be raised significantly if the factors behind gender differences were identified and addressed.
    • How does student performance vary between and within schools?
      As well as examining variations in the performance of 15-year-old students between different countries, PISA also provides an opportunity to examine variations in performance within countries. Such variations are important as they may reflect the impact of non-educational factors on student performance, especially the impact of students’ socio-economic background. Identifying the characteristics of students, schools and education systems that perform well despite the impact of social disadvantage can provide clues to making education policy more effective in overcoming inequalities.
    • How well do immigrant students do?
      In most OECD countries, policy makers and the general public are paying increasing attention to international migration. In part, this is a consequence of the growth of immigrant population in recent years. Between 1990 and 2000 alone, the number of people living outside their country of birth nearly doubled worldwide to 175 million, and many OECD countries now have a sizeable component of first- and second-generation immigrant students. Ensuring that schools meet the needs of these students is important if they are to play a full role in society.
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  • Statistical Note
    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 the ownership or sponsorship of the institutions concerned and regardless of education delivery mechanisms. With one exception described below, all types of students and all age groups are meant to be included: children (including students with special needs), adults, nationals, foreigners, as well as students in open distance learning, in special education programmes or in educational programmes organised by ministries other than the Ministry of Education, provided the main aim of the programme is the educational development of the individual. However, 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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