Indicator B1. Who participates in education?

Periods of compulsory education vary widely across OECD countries. In some countries, early childhood education and care (ECEC) is compulsory, as early as the age of three. In other countries, education becomes compulsory only from primary education onwards, sometimes as late as at the age of seven. Likewise, compulsory education ends as early as age 14 in some OECD countries, while it lasts until 18 in many others (Table X1.5). The age at which compulsory education ends may depend on obtaining a particular qualification. For example, in the Netherlands students can leave education from the age of 16 if they obtain a basic qualification, but otherwise have to continue until they are 18. In countries with dual systems, such as Germany, the final years of compulsory education may be partly spent in workplace-based training (European Commission, 2021[2]).

When compulsory education was first introduced during the late 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, it was often limited to comparatively short periods of primary education (Lee and Lee, 2016[3]). Since then, the duration of compulsory education has increased gradually, a trend that has continued up to today. Austria made pre-primary education mandatory for 5-year-olds in 2010 and France introduced compulsory pre-primary education starting at 3 years old in September 2019. The upper age limit of compulsory education is also increasing. In 2015, the United Kingdom raised its school leaving age to 18, while in 2017 Austria made formal or non-formal education compulsory until the age of 18 unless students obtain an upper secondary qualification earlier.

However, compulsory education ages are at best only a rough indicator of typical enrolment patterns. In many OECD countries, enrolment rates are already high before the start of compulsory education and, in most countries, a large majority of students continue to study after the end of mandatory education (see Indicator B2). As a consequence, in more than half of OECD countries, the age period for which at least 90% of children and young people are enrolled exceeds the duration of compulsory education. For example, Korea and Slovenia have the shortest compulsory schooling period among OECD countries, from 6 to 14 years old (Table X1.5). However, for both these countries, at least 90% of the population are enrolled for an age range spanning 15 years (i.e. from 2 to 16 years old in Korea and from 4 to 18 years old in Slovenia), towards the top end of the range for OECD countries (Table B1.1).

Although most children and adolescents are enrolled beyond the period of compulsory education, there remain some who are not enrolled even when they are of compulsory education age. In more than two-thirds of OECD and partner countries, the enrolment rates of 6-14 year-olds are below 100%. In most cases, the share of children and adolescents who are not enrolled is in the low single digits, but a few countries have larger gaps (Table B1.1). For example, less than 90% of students aged 14 or older are enrolled in Mexico, even though compulsory education lasts until age 17 (see Education at a Glance Database and Table X1.5). Similarly, education is compulsory until the age of 17 in Türkiye, but enrolment rates among 16 and 17 year-olds are below 90%.

In some countries, grade repetition can have a significant effect on enrolment duration in primary and secondary programmes. The number of students who have to repeat a grade and therefore spend a year longer in a programme than usual varies widely across countries. While grade repetition is not universally used across the OECD, it is common in some countries, such as Belgium where 15% of upper secondary students are repeating a grade (OECD, 2022[4]). Despite its popularity in some countries, the evidence suggests that the effectiveness of this tool is low (Goos, Pipa and Peixoto, 2021[5]).

In recent years, countries have adapted their upper secondary offer in response to growing demand for upper secondary education, student aspirations and labour-market needs. Vocational programmes increasingly need to include a strong general component, to equip young people with the skills required to learn and adapt to changing skills needs throughout their careers. Many countries have built flexible pathways from upper secondary programmes, including vocational ones, into higher levels of education and the labour market, as well as options for moving between vocational and general programmes. This growing complexity affects the educational trajectories of adolescents and young adults most strongly between the ages of 17 and 20 and is reflected in diverse enrolment patterns across countries.

On average, more than half of all 17-year-olds in OECD countries are enrolled in general upper secondary programmes, while 31% are enrolled in vocational upper secondary programmes. In a few countries, some students will enrol in tertiary education at that age, but the share is still very low except in Austria and Colombia, where 13% of 17-year-olds are enrolled in tertiary programmes. The age of 18 is when the greatest differences in participation are seen across countries. More than half of all 18-year-olds are enrolled in tertiary education in France, Greece and Korea, while in many other OECD countries tertiary enrolment is still close to zero. This is either due to a longer duration of primary and secondary programmes or a later starting age of primary education. For example, in Switzerland, children start primary education at 7 years old and end upper secondary education at 19. By age 19, tertiary enrolment rates are already peaking in some countries, but are still very low in others; in Denmark, only 6% of 19-year-olds are enrolled in tertiary education. By 20, the transfer out of upper secondary education is nearly complete in most OECD countries and enrolment rates for general upper secondary education and vocational upper secondary education are below 10% (Table B1.3).

As the age of students increases, the share of students enrolled in general upper secondary programmes decreases faster than the share enrolled in vocational programmes. On average, 55% of 17-year-olds are enrolled in general upper secondary education, compared to 8% of 19-year-olds. In contrast, 30% of 17-year-olds are enrolled in vocational programmes, compared with 15% of 19-year-olds. However, the variation across countries is large. In some countries, such as Korea, enrolment in vocational upper secondary education beyond the age of 18 is virtually non-existent even though it is not uncommon at earlier ages. In contrast, enrolment rates in vocational upper secondary education peak at the age of 19 in Australia (Table B1.3).

Different programme structures and possibilities of transferring between programmes explain the differences in enrolment patterns across general and vocational upper secondary education. In Germany, for example, a significant share of young adults with a general upper secondary qualification subsequently pursue a vocational upper secondary programme (Dohmen, 2022[6]). These students tend to enrol at an older age than their peers who began a vocational upper secondary education immediately after completing a lower secondary programme. Thus, enrolment rates at this level remain high among older students, with 18% of 20-year-olds in Germany enrolled in vocational upper secondary education (Table B1.3).

In Norway, access to tertiary education usually depends on a general upper secondary qualification, but there are a variety of alternative routes to accessing tertiary education. For example, students in vocational programmes have the option to switch to a 1-year general programme after the second year, so that they graduate from a general upper secondary programme even though they started a vocational upper secondary one. Such specific programme structures and chances to transfer between programmes are common in many countries, leading to the diversity in enrolment rates. A noticeable outlier is Israel, where enrolment rates across all programmes are very low between the ages of 18 and 20, as most young adults are doing military service during this time.

The diversity of programmes offered at tertiary level is even greater than in upper secondary education. This is particularly the case for short-cycle tertiary programmes. Such programmes are common in some countries, but very rare in others (Figure B1.1). Even within the same country, short-cycle tertiary programmes often include a wide range of different professionally oriented programmes that might be provided at different types of institutions, such as universities, community or vocational colleges and vocational schools. These programmes may provide initial preparation for an occupation but potentially also serve as a bridge into a bachelor’s programme (e.g. associate degrees in the United States), or offer upskilling opportunities to adults with work experience. Short-cycle tertiary programmes frequently include elements of work-based learning (OECD, 2022[7]). Their diverse nature is reflected in their wide range of typical enrolment ages. Enrolment usually starts in the early twenties, but typical enrolment ages can cover the thirties and even the forties in some countries (Table B1.2).

Bachelor’s programmes are longer and are usually more theoretical in nature than short-cycle tertiary programmes. They last three to four years and are usually offered by universities. As they are often the first tertiary programme students enter after completing upper secondary education, the typical enrolment age is in the late teens and early twenties in most countries. However, in some countries, such as the Nordic countries, the typical enrolment age of bachelor’s students stretches into the mid-thirties. In these countries, students are more likely to enter tertiary education for the first time after working for several years (Table B1.2). In addition, some countries have developed bachelor’s level programmes with an applied, practical focus. Examples include professional bachelor’s programmes in Denmark, France and the Netherlands (OECD, 2022[7]). Depending on whether students enrol in these programmes immediately after graduating from upper secondary education or after gaining work experience, the typical enrolment ages can vary.

Master’s programmes tend to be second degrees that follow the completion of a bachelor’s programme. Their content tends to be more specialised and academic in nature than the content of bachelor’s programmes. Some countries have also developed master’s programmes with a professional orientation, such as master professional qualifications in Germany, professional master’s degrees in the Netherlands and federal examinations in Switzerland (OECD, 2022[7]). Typical enrolment ages for master’s programmes start in the early to mid-twenties. In countries, where students tend to enrol in master’s programmes shortly after gaining their bachelor’s degree, the typical enrolment age ends in the late twenties (e.g. in many central European countries). In contrast, in countries where master’s students return to education after working for some time after earning their first tertiary degree, the typical enrolment age lasts into the thirties and forties (Table B1.2).

Long first degree programmes are often classified as master’s programmes, although some lead to qualifications at bachelor’s level. As the name suggests, these programmes are designed as a first tertiary programme following the completion of upper secondary education, but with a length of more than four years, comparable to a combined bachelor’s and master’s programme. Moreover, their content tends to be more complex and specialised than bachelor’s programmes, thus justifying their frequent classification as a master’s programme (OECD, European Union, UNESCO-UIS, 2015[8]).

Doctoral programmes are the highest level of tertiary study. They require students to contribute original research and are usually only offered by research-oriented universities and other institutions. Usually, a master’s degree is required to enter a doctoral programme (OECD, European Union, UNESCO-UIS, 2015[8]). While the theoretical duration of doctoral programmes is usually from three to five years, many students need longer to complete their studies at doctoral level. This results in typical enrolment ages that last from the mid- to late twenties, into the late thirties and late forties (Table B1.2).

More than half of all tertiary students are enrolled at bachelor’s level in all OECD and partner countries except for Austria, France and Luxemburg. Master’s students are the second largest group of tertiary students, but their share varies considerably across OECD countries. The most noticeable differences across countries concern the share of students in short-cycle tertiary programmes, however. Although more than 30% of all tertiary students are enrolled in such programmes in Türkiye and the United States, the share is in the low single digits in many other OECD and partner countries. In some countries where enrolment in short-cycle tertiary programmes is common, such as Canada or the United States, it can play a similar role to vocational upper secondary education in other countries, by offering initial occupational preparation. In other countries, such as Austria, short-cycle tertiary programmes are part of “higher VET” and are commonly pursued after upper secondary vocational programmes. Overall, countries where enrolment in vocational upper secondary education is common among 18-year-olds also have on average a slightly higher share of tertiary students enrolled in short-cycle tertiary programmes (Figure B1.1).

Enrolment rates are an important metric for describing the student population but it is important to bear in mind that enrolment rates in longer programmes tend to be higher than enrolment rates in shorter ones because students are enrolled for a longer period of time. In the countries with the highest share of tertiary students in bachelor’s programmes (Brazil and Mexico), bachelor’s programmes last four years, whereas in the countries with the lowest share of bachelor’s students (France and Luxemburg), they last only three years. Moreover, enrolment rates in Figure B1.1 are expressed as a percentage of all tertiary students. They do not take into account the substantial differences across countries in the share of young adults enrolling in tertiary education overall. For example, bachelor’s students make up a smaller share of tertiary students in Australia than the OECD average, but a significantly larger share of young adults in Australia are enrolled in tertiary education than in most other OECD countries (Table B1.3).

Studying part-time is common in tertiary education in most OECD countries: on average, 22% of tertiary students are enrolled on a part-time basis. It is especially widespread in the Nordic countries (except Denmark) and in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, where more than 30% of students study part-time. On average, also the share of part-time students has changed little between 2013 and 2020. However, several countries, such as Estonia, Lithuania, the Slovak Republic, Poland and the United Kingdom, have experienced declines in the share of part-time students of between 7 and 17 percentage points (Figure B1.3). The reasons for these declines are likely to be country specific and may include policy reforms to reduce support for part-time students or for on-the-job training programmes offered by employers. In the United Kingdom, decreases in the number of part-time students have been partially attributed to rising fees for part-time study and the removal of institutional funding for students pursuing second undergraduate qualifications, as well as the decline in employer support for part-time study (Bolton and Hubble, 2022[11]; Tazzyman et al., 2019[12]).

Students may choose to enrol part-time in order to combine their learning with work. Often, these students are from families with lower socio-economic backgrounds (Hayden and Long, 2006[13]). In the United States, for example, 45% of students who were financially dependent on low-income parents were enrolled full time for a full academic year, compared to 57% of students who were dependent on parents whose incomes were above the federal poverty level in the academic year 2015/16 (Chen and Nunnery, 2019[14]). Part-time students may also be older adults who are relying on their own earnings to fund their education (Heagney and Benson, 2017[15]). They may also be parents with dependent children, who then have to manage – often costly – child-care obligations (Noll, Reichlin and Gault, 2017[16]). For these students, it can be a financial impossibility to study full time. Part-time study therefore facilitates access to tertiary education for a broad range of students who may otherwise find it difficult to pursue further studies. Countries that experience large drops in part-time students or have persistently low rates of part-time students may be at risk of disproportionately excluding particular groups from tertiary education.

The share of tertiary students enrolled in private institutions varies dramatically across countries. It is 100% in the United Kingdom, but virtually 0% in Canada, Denmark, Greece and Luxembourg. While a few countries have large majorities of tertiary students in private institutions, the share is between 10% and 30% in most OECD and partner countries. Across the OECD, 29% of tertiary students are enrolled in private institutions on average, which is stable compared to 2013 (Figure B1.4).

There are important differences between private tertiary institutions. In some countries with high shares of students in private institutions, most of private institutions are government dependent. Even though they are organised as private entities, they obtain large shares of their funding through regular government contributions and governments retain a considerable influence over them. This is especially the case in Belgium, Finland, Israel, Latvia and the United Kingdom. In other countries, private institutions are financially less dependent on the government (see Indicator C3). They rely on various sources of private funding, such as tuition fees and donations. Many of these private institutions operate on a not-for-profit basis. However, some countries like the United States also have tertiary students enrolled in for-profit institutions (NCES, 2022[17]). Due to this significant variety in the nature of private tertiary institutions across countries, Figure B1.4 should always be interpreted in the context of the private tertiary education system of a country.

Giving tertiary institutions greater autonomy than they would have under direct government control is a major reason for having government-dependent private tertiary institutions. This was, for example, the motivation of a major reform in Finland in 2010 that transformed universities into independent legal entities (Aarrevaara, Dobson and Elander, 2009[18]). This change in legal status is one reason behind the strong increase of the share of students enrolled in private institutions in Finland. However, the character of the universities that were affected by the reform remains drastically different from other private institutions, such as for-profit universities.

A high prevalence of private tertiary institutions can have negative consequences for equity. In all countries with available data, typical tuition fees are higher for students in private tertiary institutions than in public tertiary institutions (OECD, 2021[19]). The difference in tuition fees is especially important because public support, such as public grants and tuition fee waivers, might not always be available for students in private institutions. Moreover, public and private institutions may use different admission criteria, which can make it harder for marginalised students to access the private institutions even if they can afford it (Hossler et al., 2019[20]).

Subnational variation in enrolment patterns are an important indicator of the equity of participation in education and can reflect equality of access to education and labour-market opportunities across a country. In most countries, subnational differences in enrolment are low among 6-14 year-olds (the age range which covers almost all compulsory education in most countries) and among 15-19 year-olds (when students start transition to the labour market or to tertiary education). Subnational differences increase among older age groups, however. Regional differences in 20-29 year-olds are relatively low in some countries like Denmark and the United Kingdom, where the difference between the highest and lowest enrolment rates across subnational regions are less than 10 percentage points. However, this difference in regional enrolment rates of 20-29 year-olds is over 60 percentage points in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Spain, while it is 94 percentage points in Türkiye. The highest enrolment rates for 20-29 year-olds are found in capital cities and regions in over 40% of the countries with data available. This may be due to the fact that capital cities and regions are the largest urban area in their home country and thus attract a greater share of people pursuing tertiary education. Urban areas tend to offer better salaries and employment opportunities once students graduate, and to have more tertiary education institutions than more rural regions (see Indicator A1). There are also subnational disparities in enrolment among 30-39 year-olds. The variation is especially high in Türkiye, where the difference between the regions with the highest and lowest enrolment rates is 99 percentage points (OECD, 2022[21]).

The data in this indicator cover formal education programmes that represent at least the equivalent of one semester (or half of a school/academic year) of full-time study and take place entirely in educational institutions or are delivered as combined school- and work-based programmes.

Full enrolment, for the purposes of this indicator, is defined as enrolment rates exceeding 90%.

General education programmes are designed to develop learners’ general knowledge, skills and competencies, often to prepare them for other general or vocational education programmes at the same or a higher education level. General education does not prepare people for employment in a particular occupation, trade, or class of occupations or trades.

Vocational education and training (VET) programmes prepare participants for direct entry into specific occupations without further training. Successful completion of such programmes leads to a vocational or technical qualification that is relevant to the labour market.

A full-time student is someone who is enrolled in an education programme whose intended study load amounts to at least 75% of the normal full-time annual study load. A part-time student is someone who is enrolled in an education programme whose intended study load is less than 75% of the normal full-time annual study load.

Except where otherwise noted, figures are based on head counts, because it is difficult for some countries to quantify part-time study. Net enrolment rates are calculated by dividing the number of students of a particular age group enrolled in all levels of education by the size of the population of that age group. While enrolment and population figures refer to the same period in most cases, mismatches may occur due to data availability in some countries, resulting in enrolment rates exceeding 100%.

For more information, please see the OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Statistics 2018 (OECD, 2018[22]) and Annex 3 for country-specific notes (

Data refer to the 2019/20 academic year and are based on the UNESCO-UIS/OECD/Eurostat data collection on education statistics administered by the OECD in 2021 (for details, see Annex 3 at

Data on subnational regions for selected indicators are available in the OECD Regional Statistics (database) (OECD, 2022[21]).


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