Highlights from Education at a Glance 2008
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branch Paying for education
  branch Has spending per student increased?
  • Expenditure on educational institutions per student at primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary level increased on average by 35% between 1995 and 2005.
  • Expenditure on educational institutions in primary and secondary education rose faster than student numbers in all countries between 1995 and 2005.
  • At tertiary level, however, expenditure per student shrank in some cases, as spending failed to keep up with rising student numbers.


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.


Expenditure on educational institutions per student at the primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary levels increased in every country, on average, by 35% between 1995 and 2005 during a period of relatively stable student numbers. The increase is quite similar for each of the two consecutive five-year periods; only the Czech Republic, Italy, Norway and Switzerland showed a decrease between 1995 and 2000, followed by an increase between 2000 and 2005. Changes in enrolments do not seem to have been the main factor behind changes in expenditure at these levels of -education.

The pattern is different at the tertiary level where spending per student between 1995 and 2005 fell in some cases, as expenditure failed to keep up with expanding student numbers. Such spending remained stable between 1995 and 2000 but then increased by 11% on average in OECD countries from 2000 to 2005, as governments invested massively in response to the expansion of tertiary education. Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, -Mexico, Norway, Poland, the Slovak Republic and the United Kingdom followed this pattern. However, the increase in expenditure per student between 2000 and 2005 did not totally counterbalance the decrease between 1995 and 2000 in the Czech Republic, Norway and the Slovak Republic. Only in Hungary was there a decrease in expenditure on educational institutions per tertiary student over the two five-year periods.

Between 2000 and 2005, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden recorded decreases in per-student expenditure in tertiary education. In all of these countries, except for Belgium and Germany, these declines were mainly the result of rapid increases - at least 10% - in tertiary student numbers. In the nine OECD countries where enrolments in tertiary education rose by more than 20% between 2000 and 2005, seven (the Czech Republic, Greece, Iceland, Mexico, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Switzerland) increased their per-student expenditure at tertiary level by at least the same proportion, while two (Hungary and Sweden) did not.


Spending per student at a particular level of education is calculated by dividing the total expenditure on -educational institutions at that level by the corres-ponding full-time equivalent enrolment. The OECD average is calculated as the simple average over all OECD countries for which data are available. The OECD total reflects the value of the data when the OECD area is considered as a whole.

Going further

For additional material, notes and a full explanation of sourcing and methodologies, see Education at a Glance 2008 Indicator B1).

Areas covered include:

  • Changes in expenditure on educational institutions by level of education.
  • Changes in expenditure and in GDP per capita.

Further reading from OECD

Trends Shaping Education (2008).

Indicator in PDF Acrobat PDF page

3.3. Trends in expenditure per student (2000, 2005)
Trends in expenditure per student (2000, 2005)

Visit the OECD web site