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.

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Highlights from Education at a Glance 2009

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  • Foreword
    Highlights from Education at a Glance 2009 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 2009, the OECD’s flagship compendium of education statistics.
  • Reader's Guide
    This section introduces some of the terminology used in this publication, and explains how readers can use the links provided to get further information.
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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 spread 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.
    • How have education levels risen over time?
      The previous spread looked at how education attainment levels differ between age groups, which provides a rough representation of the evolution of human capital in different countries. However, it is also possible to look at trends in attainment levels over time, which can provide a complementary picture. For example, because attainment levels are not evenly distributed within an age group, analysing trends will in some circumstances reveal a slightly different picture. Attainment levels have also risen as a result of the trend for people to go on to study in later life. Finally, in some countries immigration can have a big impact on attainment levels over time.
    • Who participates in education?
      A well-educated population is essential to 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 spread examines access to education, and its evolution, from 1995 to 2007. 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 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 (the structure and scope of which varies widely between countries) are influenced both by the degree of access to tertiary programmes and by the demand for higher skills in the labour market.
    • Is education meeting the needs of the workforce?
      A key issue for any education system is how well it supplies the labour market with the level and diversity of skills it requires. The match between educational attainment and occupations can thus be seen as a signal of demand for education. This spread looks at one aspect of this by examining trends in the proportions of tertiary graduates and non-graduates in skilled occupations in OECD countries over the period 1998 and 2006.
    • How successful are students in moving from education to work?
      This spread looks at the number of years young people can expect to spend in education, employment and non-employment. All OECD countries are experiencing rapid social and economic changes that make the transition to working life more uncertain for younger individuals. As the economic crisis bites, long-term unemployment among young adults is likely to rise in most countries.
    • How many students study abroad?
      This spread 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 globalized 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 subjects they study. As well as its social and educational impact, international study has a substantial economic impact. Some OECD countries already show signs of specialisation in education exports, and the internationalisation of education is likely to have a growing impact on countries’ balance of payments as a result of revenue from tuition fees and domestic consumption by international students. There are financial benefits, too, for educational institutions; international students can also help them to reach the critical mass needed to diversify the range of their educational programmes.
    • PISA: Who are the top performers?
      The rapidly growing demand for highly skilled workers has led to a global competition for talent. High-level skills are critical for the creation of new knowledge, technologies and innovation and therefore an important determinant of economic growth and social development. Drawing on data from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), this spread looks at top-performing students in science.
    • PISA: What is the family background of top performers?
      Results from all three rounds of PISA since 2001 show that socio-economic background and performance are closely related – in basic terms, students from wealthier families tend to do better. Similarly, coming from an immigrant background can have a significant impact on how well students perform. From an equity perspective it is important to understand the effect of these background characteristics on the proportion of top performers.
    • PISA: What are top performers' attitudes and motivations?
      Students’ attitudes and motivations tend to be closely associated with how well they do. Fostering interest and motivation in science, as well as preparing and informing students about science-related careers, are thus important policy goals. This spread shows how top performers in science tend to be dedicated and engaged learners who aspire to a career in science and feel well informed about potential career opportunities in science.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts The Economic and Social Benefits of Education

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    • How much more do tertiary graduates earn?
      This spread examines the relative earnings of workers with different levels of education. Differences in pretax earnings between educational groups provide a good indication of supply and demand for education. Combined with data on earnings over time, these differences provide a strong signal of whether education systems are meeting the demands of the labour market.
    • How does education affect employment rates?
      This spread examines the relationship between education and the labour force. OECD countries depend upon a stable supply of well-educated workers to promote economic development. Data on employment and unemployment rates – and how they evolve over time – can thus carry important information for policy makers about the supply, and potential supply, of skills available to the labour market and about employers’ demand for these skills.
    • 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 economies and societies gain from increasing levels of education.
    • What are the social benefits of education?
      Raising people’s standard of health and improving social cohesion are major concerns for OECD governments. There is general agreement on the important role education can play in attaining both these outcomes, but far less certainty over how exactly this can be achieved. Against this background, this spread introduces a new indicator on the relationship between educational attainment and social measures of well-being for 21 OECD countries. It focuses on three outcomes that reflect the health and cohesiveness of the society: self-assessed health, political interest and interpersonal trust.
    • 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 (these can be thought of as "costs"). As with any investment, a rate of return can be calculated. In this case, it is driven mainly by the reality that people with higher levels of education earn more and are more likely to be in work ("benefits"). Where the rate of return is high, it implies a real financial incentive for people to continue their 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 spread shows the levels of combined public and private spending on education. In debates about learning, 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 provide reference points for comparisons of education resources.
    • Has spending per student increased?
      This spread looks at whether spending on education has risen or fallen 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 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 the cost of schooling each student is not accompanied by improvements in educational outcomes, it raises the spectre of falling productivity levels.
    • What share of national wealth is spent on education?
      This spread 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 areas of public spending, such as health care, social security and national security. Since the second half of the 1990s, most OECD countries have sought to consolidate public budgets, and education has had to compete with a wide range of other areas for public financial support. This spread 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?
      This spread shows how the financing of educational institutions is shared between public and private entities, particularly at tertiary level. Public funding provides a very large part of investment in education, but the role of private sources has become more important. Some stakeholders are concerned that this balance should not become so tilted that it discourages some potential students from attending tertiary education. Thus, it is important to look at changes in public/private funding shares to determine if they are influencing patterns and levels of student participation.
    • How much do tertiary students pay?
      This spread 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 spread 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.
    • What accounts for variations in spending on salary costs?
      The relationship between resources devoted to education and outcomes has been the focus of much interest in recent years, as governments seek to ensure value for money in public spending while satisfying the education needs of society and the economy. Consequently, there is considerable interest in international comparisons of how various school systems allocate resources. This spread examines these questions from the perspective of salary cost per student – a calculation based on the hours students spend in the classroom, teachers’ teaching hours, class size and teachers’ salaries. Salary cost per student (as a percentage of GDP per capita) is calculated for each country and then compared with the OECD average.
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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 spread 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 spread 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 spread 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 spread 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 spread 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: TALIS

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    • What is TALIS?
      TALIS, which is the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey, provides the first internationally comparative perspective on conditions of teaching and learning. The survey’s findings, which cover 16 OECD and 7 partner countries, provide insights into some of the factors that lie behind the differences in learning outcomes revealed by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
    • How extensive is teacher appraisal and feedback?
      Evaluation can play a key role in school improvement and teacher development. Providing feedback can aid teachers in better understanding their respective strengths and weaknesses, which can be an important first step towards improving teaching.
    • How much class time is lost to indiscipline?
      Studies from around the world indicate that the classroom climate is one of the most important predictors of student achievement. TALIS focuses on the disciplinary climate because it has a strong impact on student learning in various subjects, and because it has been shown that – unlike other features of classroom climate – there is a high level of agreement about this indicator among teachers, students and observers.
    • What are teachers' beliefs and practices?
      Quality of instruction is fundamental to student learning, but there is no single, well-defined best way of teaching. Indeed, how teachers teach and their professional knowledge can differ not only among countries but also among teachers within a country. This spread looks at what teachers said about their beliefs and approaches to teaching and their actual teaching practices.
    • Are teachers satisfied in their jobs?
      As well as examining pedagogical beliefs and attitudes, TALIS also looked at job-related attitudes, namely job satisfaction and teacher self-efficacy (or the extent to which a teacher feels that he or she has the capacity to achieve teaching goals). Job satisfaction is a central concept in organisational and work psychology. It is assumed that job satisfaction is both affected by the work situation and influences work-related behaviour, including performance, absenteeism and turnover. Strong self-efficacy beliefs can prevent stress and burnout, and teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs and their job satisfaction are linked to instructional practices and student achievement.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Annex

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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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