Indicator B3. Who is expected to graduate from upper secondary education?

Highlights
  • In almost all countries with available data, women represent at least half of upper secondary graduates from general programmes. In contrast, women are under-represented in vocational programmes in about seven out of ten countries with available data.

  • Across OECD countries, the average age of first-time graduation at upper secondary level is higher for vocational programmes (21 years old) than for general programmes (18 years old), and much higher for post-secondary non-tertiary vocational programmes (31 years old).

  • Current estimates indicate that on average, 86% of people across OECD countries will graduate from upper secondary education in their lifetime, and 81% of people will do so before the age of 25.

Figure B3.1. Average age of first-time upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary graduates, by programme orientation (2017)
Figure B3.1. Average age of first-time upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary graduates, by programme orientation (2017)

1. Year of reference 2016.

Countries are ranked in descending order of the average age of first time graduates from upper secondary vocational programmes.

Source: OECD/UIS/Eurostat (2019), data could slightly differ from Tables B3.1 and B3.2 as they refer to first-time graduates. See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes (https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en).

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933977999

Context

Upper secondary education, defined as the second stage of learning after completing lower secondary education, is essential for both pursuing further levels of education and successful labour market integration. It can be either vocational or general and provided in both public and private schools, or in vocational and technical institutes. In many countries, this level of education is not compulsory and can last from two to five years. Post-secondary non-tertiary programmes straddle upper secondary and post-secondary education and may be considered either upper secondary or post-secondary programmes, depending on the country.

In most developed countries, almost all students in lower secondary school enrol in upper secondary education and most of them study in programmes providing access to tertiary education. In general, demand for upper secondary education is increasing worldwide, with the development of a variety of educational pathways. In fact, graduating from upper secondary education has become increasingly important in all countries, as the skills needed in the labour market are becoming more knowledge-based, and workers are progressively required to adapt to the uncertainties of a rapidly changing global economy.

However, while graduation rates give an indication of the extent to which education systems are succeeding in preparing students to meet the minimum requirements of the labour market, they do not capture the quality of education outcomes.

Other findings

  • The average age of graduates from vocational programmes varies considerably across countries, particularly at upper secondary level. In Canada, the average age of graduates from upper secondary vocational programmes is 32 years old compared with 16 in Colombia.

  • On average across OECD countries, first-time graduation rates increased by 2 percentage points at the upper secondary level and remained constant at the post-secondary non-tertiary level, between 2010 and 2017.

  • On average across OECD countries, women represent 54% of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates; however, variations across countries are significant, ranging from 19% in Luxembourg to 75% in Austria and Poland.

Note

Graduation rates, when calculated for all ages, represent the estimated percentage of people from a given age cohort who are expected to graduate within the country at some point during their lifetime. This estimate is based on the number of graduates in 2017 and the age distribution of this group. Graduation rates are based on both the population and the current pattern of graduation and are thus sensitive to any changes in the education system, such as the introduction of new programmes and changes in the duration of programmes. Graduation rates can be very high during a period when an unexpected number of people go back to school.

In this edition of Education at a Glance, the focus is predominately on first-time graduates. The notion of graduates (i.e. all graduates, not only first-time graduates) is used when measuring average age, share of female graduates and graduates by field of study (see Definitions section).

Analysis

Profile of upper secondary graduates

Profile of upper secondary graduates, by programme orientation

Although many countries have developed extensive vocational programmes at the secondary level, in most countries, fewer students pursue vocational programmes than general programmes. On average across OECD countries, 40% of first-time upper secondary graduates obtained a qualification from a vocational programme. The share of first-time graduates from vocational programmes is particularly low in Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hungary, Iceland, Japan, Korea and Lithuania (below 25%). In contrast, in Austria, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia, more than 65% of first-time graduates obtained a qualification from a vocational programme.

Vocational education and training (VET) is an important part of upper secondary education in many OECD countries, and it can play a central role in preparing young people for work, developing adults’ skills and responding to labour-market needs (see Indicator A1). In some countries, VET has been neglected and marginalised in policy discussions, often overshadowed by the increasing emphasis on general academic education. However, participating in an initial VET programme has both, micro and macro beneficial outcomes: the opportunity to acquire qualifications, integration into the labour market with a satisfactory wage, further career development opportunities, professional status and economic competitiveness (CEDEFOP, 2011[1]).

It has been also found that VET has a positive effect on graduates' employability, because of their early entry into the labour market. The transition to work is faster for upper secondary graduates from vocational programmes than those enrolled in general programmes; they are more likely to get a permanent first job and are less likely to find themselves in a first job with a qualification mismatch. At a time when professional experience is often a requirement to enter the labour market, vocational upper secondary graduates have an advantage over those with little or no professional experience. However, at tertiary level the opposite pattern is found: technical graduates have to search significantly longer for a job than academic graduates in the European Union, mainly because tertiary technical programmes develop more specific skills that lead to a relatively longer search for the correct match (CEDEFOP, 2013[2]).

Vocational programmes can be offered in combined school- and work-based programmes, where between 10% and 75% of the curriculum is presented in the school environment or through distance education. These include apprenticeship programmes that involve concurrent school-based and work-based training, and programmes that involve alternating periods of attendance at educational institutions and participation in work-based training. In countries such as Austria, Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Norway and Switzerland, this type of dual system attracts at least 30% of the students enrolled in upper secondary VET programmes (see the Education at a Glance Database). Through work-based learning, students acquire the skills that are valued in the workplace. Work-based learning is also a way to develop public-private partnerships and to involve social partners and employers in developing VET programmes, often by defining curricular frameworks.

Moreover, high-quality VET programmes can be effective in developing skills among those who would otherwise lack the qualifications to ensure a smooth and successful transition into the labour market. However, it is important to ensure that graduates of upper secondary VET programmes have good employment opportunities, since VET can be more expensive than other education programmes (see Indicator C1).

Profile of upper secondary graduates, by gender

The share of women tends to be significantly higher in upper secondary general programmes than in vocational programmes. On average across OECD countries, women make up 55% of upper secondary graduates from general programmes, compared to 48% for vocational programmes.

In almost all countries with available data, women make up at least half of upper secondary graduates from general programmes, ranging from 49% in Korea to 61% in the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, and 62% in Italy. In contrast, women are under-represented in vocational programmes in about seven out of ten countries with available data (Figure B3.2).

Figure B3.2. Share of women among upper secondary graduates, by programme orientation (2017)
Figure B3.2. Share of women among upper secondary graduates, by programme orientation (2017)

Countries are ranked in descending order of the share of women in general programmes.

Source: OECD/UIS/Eurostat (2019), Education at a Glance Database, http://stats.oecd.org/. See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes (https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en).

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933978018

There is, however, significant cross-country variation in vocational programmes. The share of women ranges from less than 36% in Estonia and Lithuania to 63% in New Zealand. In fact, New Zealand is one of just five countries (i.e. Brazil, Colombia, Ireland and the United Kingdom) where women make up a higher share of graduates in vocational programmes than in general programmes. In these countries, the difference between the share of women in vocational and general programmes ranges from less than 4 percentage points in Brazil, Colombia and the United Kingdom to over 10 percentage points in Ireland and New Zealand (Figure B3.2).

Profile of upper secondary vocational graduates, by field of study

On average across OECD countries, 33% of graduates from upper secondary vocational programmes earn a qualification in the field of engineering, manufacturing and construction. This falls to 18% for business, administration and law, and 11% for health and welfare. However, this pattern does not hold for every country. In Chile, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland and Lithuania nearly 50% of students graduate with a specialisation in engineering, manufacturing and construction. In contrast, business, administration and law is the most popular field in upper secondary vocational programmes for Brazil, Luxembourg and Switzerland. In Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom, the field of health and welfare is the most popular (Figure B3.3).

The percentage of women pursuing a programme in engineering, manufacturing and construction is low at the upper secondary vocational level: only 12% of graduates in this field of study are women. On the other hand, women are over-represented in health and welfare, where they make up 82% of graduates on average. In fact, in health and welfare, the share of female graduates exceeds 75% in all countries except Latvia (71%), Poland (56%), Slovenia (73%) and Sweden (72%). Between these two extremes, there is more gender balance in the field of services where, on average, 61% of graduates are women, and in business, administration and law, where 65% of graduates are women (Table B3.1).

Figure B3.3. Distribution of upper secondary vocational graduates by selected field of study (2017)
Figure B3.3. Distribution of upper secondary vocational graduates by selected field of study (2017)

1. Year of reference 2016.

Countries are ranked in descending order of the share of engineering, manufacturing and construction graduates.

Source: OECD/UIS/Eurostat (2019), Table B3.1. See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes (https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en).

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933978037

Gender gaps in fields of study may be partly due to social perceptions of what women and men excel at and the careers they can pursue. For example, the low share of women in the field of engineering, manufacturing and construction may result from the social perception of science as being a masculine domain, which may discourage women from pursuing studies in that field (OECD, 2015[3]).

Profile of upper secondary vocational graduates, by age

The average age of upper secondary graduates tends to be older for vocational programmes than general programmes. On average across OECD countries, first-time upper secondary graduates obtain their qualification at the age of 21 in vocational programmes, compared to 18 in general programmes (Figure B3.1).

However, there is some variation across countries. In Canada, Denmark, Iceland and Norway, the average graduation age is significantly higher for vocational programmes than general ones, with a difference of at least seven years. In contrast, in Chile, Colombia and Poland, students graduate from general programmes at least one year later than from vocational programmes. In the Czech Republic, Israel, Korea, Mexico, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Sweden and Turkey, the average graduation age is the same for both general and vocational programmes (Figure B3.1).

Differences between the graduation age in vocational and general programmes may reflect differences in these programmes’ duration. For instance, in Norway, vocational programmes are one year longer than general programmes, which could contribute to the higher graduation age for vocational programmes (OECD Education GPS, 2018[4]).

Profile of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates

Various kinds of post-secondary non-tertiary programmes (ISCED level 4) are offered in OECD countries. These programmes straddle upper secondary and post-secondary education and may be considered either upper secondary or post-secondary programmes, depending on the country. Although the content of these programmes may not be significantly more advanced than upper secondary programmes, they broaden the knowledge of individuals who have already attained an upper secondary qualification. However about 13 countries do not offer programmes at post-secondary non-tertiary level of education.

Profile of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates, by programme orientation

On average across OECD countries, around 94% of post-secondary non-tertiary first-time graduates have graduated from vocational programmes. Professionalisation is particularly high at this level of education as post-secondary non-tertiary programmes are most often designed for direct labour market entry. There are some national initiatives to provide general programmes at post-secondary non-tertiary level to target students who have completed a vocational upper secondary level and want to increase their chances of entering tertiary education. For instance, in Switzerland, a one-year general programme – Programme Passerelle DUBS prepares graduates from vocational upper secondary education to enter general programmes at the tertiary level (OECD/Eurostat/UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2015[5])

Profile of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates, by age

The average age of first-time graduates from vocational programmes tends to be higher for post-secondary non-tertiary education than for upper secondary education. On average across OECD countries, first-time upper secondary vocational graduates obtain their qualification at the age of 21, compared to 31 for vocational post-secondary non-tertiary programmes. However, significant variation exists across countries: whereas for some countries, such as Germany, Hungary and Belgium, there is a difference of only two years between the average age of first-time graduation from upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education, for others, such as Finland, Spain and Sweden, the difference is more than 14 years (Figure B3.1).

This pattern could be partially explained by the fact that some countries have developed lifelong learning strategies. In fact, some countries are progressively developing pathways for adults in their VET strategy. In Denmark, Adult Vocational training (AMU) aims to provide adults with skills and competencies relevant to the labour market. The programmes help learners either deepen their existing knowledge in a particular field or develop new knowledge in related fields (CEDEFOP, 2019[6]).

Profile of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates, by field of study

On average across OECD countries, 21% of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates in vocational programmes specialised in health and welfare, 21% in services followed by 20% for business, administration and law; and 19% for engineering, manufacturing and construction. However, this pattern is not always repeated across countries. In Luxembourg, for instance, 80% of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates obtained a qualification in engineering, manufacturing and construction whereas in Austria the share is only 1% (Table B3.2).

Profile of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates, by gender

On average across OECD countries, women make up 54% of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates but there are significant variations across countries, with the share ranging from 19% in Luxembourg to 75% in Austria and Poland.

In almost all countries with available data, women make up more than half of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates from vocational programmes, except in Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Iceland, Luxembourg, Portugal and the Russian Federation. The percentage of women pursuing a programme in engineering, manufacturing and construction is low at the post-secondary non-tertiary level: they make up only 18% of graduates in this field. In contrast, women are over-represented in health and welfare, where the share of female graduates is 75% or more in all countries, except Australia (70%). There is more gender balance in the field of services, where on average 57% of graduates are women, and business, administration and law, where the figure is 66% (Table B3.2).

First-time graduation rates

Upper secondary graduation rates

An upper secondary education is often considered to be the minimum credential for successful entry into the labour market and necessary for continuing to further education. The costs of not completing this level of education on time can be considerable to both individuals and society (see Indicator A5).

Graduation rates offer an indication of whether government initiatives have been successful in increasing the share of people who graduate from upper secondary education. The large differences in graduation rates among countries reflect the variety of systems and programmes available, as well as other country-specific factors, such as current social norms and economic performance.

Current estimates indicate that, on average, 86% of people across OECD countries will graduate from upper secondary education in their lifetime, and 81% of people will do so before the age of 25. First-time graduation rates for those under 25 exceed 80% in more than half of OECD countries with available data, with values ranging from 60% in Mexico to over 90% in Greece, Korea and Slovenia (Table B3.3).

The higher graduation rates for general programmes may reflect the lower share of students enrolled in upper secondary vocational programmes than in general programmes (see Indicator B1), along with lower completion rates for vocational education (Box B3.1 in (OECD, 2017[7])).

In countries with available data, the first-time upper secondary graduation rate for those below the age of 25 increased by 2 percentage points between 2010 and 2017. The increase was striking in three countries: Spain, Turkey (both 18 percentage points) and Mexico (15 percentage points). In contrast, the first-time graduation rate for those under 25 fell by 5 percentage points in Austria, Lithuania and Sweden and by 13 percentage points in the Slovak Republic over the same period (Table B3.3).

However, improved upper secondary graduation rates alone will not guarantee that all graduates will pursue a tertiary degree or enter the labour force immediately, nor that they will have the right skills to succeed once in employment. Indeed, the number of upper secondary graduates who wind up neither employed nor in education or training (NEET) has been growing in about half of OECD countries (see Indicator A2). For this reason, it is important to have high-quality upper secondary programmes that provide individuals with the right mix of guidance and education opportunities to ensure that there are no dead ends after graduation.

Post-secondary non-tertiary graduation rates

First-time graduation rates from post-secondary non-tertiary education are low compared to those from upper secondary programmes. On average, it is estimated that 11% of today’s young people in OECD countries will complete a post-secondary non-tertiary programme over their lifetime. The only countries where first-time graduation rates (for all ages) from post-secondary non-tertiary programmes exceed 20% are the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, New Zealand and the United States. For OECD countries with available data for 2005, 2010 and 2017, the first-time graduation rate (for people younger than 30) has remained constant over the past decade, at around 3% on average. Nine countries do not offer this level of education: Chile, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Turkey and the United Kingdom (Table B3.3).

Definitions

Graduates in the reference period can be either first-time graduates or repeat graduates. A first-time graduate is a student who has graduated for the first time at a given level of education in the reference period. Thus, if a student has graduated multiple times over the years, he or she is counted as a graduate each year, but as a first-time graduate only once.

Net graduation rates represent the estimated percentage of an age group that will complete upper secondary education, based on current patterns of graduation.

Typical age is the age at the beginning of the last school/academic year of the corresponding educational level and programme when the degree is obtained.

Methodology

Unless otherwise indicated, graduation rates are calculated as net graduation rates (i.e. as the sum of age-specific graduation rates). Gross graduation rates are presented for countries that are unable to provide such detailed data. In order to calculate gross graduation rates, countries identify the age at which graduation typically occurs (see Annex 1). The number of graduates, regardless of their age, is divided by the population at the typical graduation age. In many countries, defining a typical age of graduation is difficult, however, because graduates are dispersed over a wide range of ages.

Graduates by programme orientation at the upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary levels are not counted as first-time graduates, given that many students graduate from more than one upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary programme. Therefore, graduation rates cannot be added, as some individuals would be counted twice. In addition, the typical graduation ages are not necessarily the same for the different types of programmes (see Annex 1). Vocational programmes include both school-based programmes and combined school- and work-based programmes that are recognised as part of the education system. Entirely work-based education and training programmes that are not overseen by a formal education authority are not included.

The average age of students is calculated from 1 January for countries where the academic year starts in the second semester of the calendar year and from 1 July for countries where the academic year starts in the first semester of the calendar year. As a consequence, the average age of first-time graduates may be underestimated by up to six months.

When an age breakdown is not available, the gross graduation rate is calculated instead. This refers to the total number of graduates divided by the average cohort of the population at the typical age provided by the country.

In this indicator, age refers generally to the age of students at the beginning of the calendar year. Students could be one year older than the age indicated when they graduate at the end of the school year. Twenty-five is used as the upper age limit for completing secondary education because, across OECD countries, more than 95% of graduates from upper secondary general programmes in 2017 were under 25 (see Education at a Glance Database). People who graduate from this level at age 25 or older are usually enrolled in second-chance programmes. At the post-secondary non-tertiary level, 30 is considered to be the upper age limit for graduation.

Please see Annex 3 for country-specific notes (https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en).

Source

Data refer to the academic year 2016/17 and are based on the UNESCO-UIS/OECD/EUROSTAT data collection on education statistics administered by the OECD in 2018 (for details, see Annex 3 at https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en).

Note regarding data from Israel

The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and are under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

References

[6] CEDEFOP (2019), Spotlight on VET - 2018 Compilation: Vocational Education and Training Systems in Europe, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

[2] CEDEFOP (2013), Labour Market Outcomes of Vocational Education in Europe, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

[1] CEDEFOP (2011), The Benefits of Vocational Education and Training, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

[7] OECD (2017), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2017-en.

[3] OECD (2015), The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264229945-en.

[4] OECD Education GPS (2018), Diagram of the education system: Norway.

[5] OECD/Eurostat/UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2015), ISCED 2011 Operational Manual: Guidelines for Classifying National Education Programmes and Related Qualifications, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264228368-en.

Indicator B3. Tables

Table B3.1 Profile of upper secondary graduates from vocational programmes (2017)

Table B3.2 Profile of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates from vocational programmes (2017)

Table B3.3 Trends in upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary first-time graduation rates (2005, 2010 and 2017)

Cut-off date for the data: 19 July 2019. Any updates on data can be found on line at http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-data-en. More breakdowns can be found at http://stats.oecd.org/, Education at a Glance Database.

StatLink: https://doi.org/10.1787/888933980963

Table B3.1. Profile of upper secondary graduates from vocational programmes (2017)
Table B3.1. Profile of upper secondary graduates from vocational programmes (2017)

Note: This table does not include data for all fields of study. The data for other fields are available at http://stats.oecd.org/, Education at a Glance Database.

1. Year of reference 2016.

2. Includes post-secondary non-tertiary level.

Source: OECD/UIS/Eurostat (2019). See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes (https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en).

Please refer to the Reader's Guide for information concerning symbols for missing data and abbreviations.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933977942

Table B3.2. Profile of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates from vocational programmes (2017)
Table B3.2. Profile of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates from vocational programmes (2017)

Note: This table does not include data for all fields of study. The data for other fields are available at http://stats.oecd.org/, Education at a Glance Database.

1. Year of reference 2016.

Source: OECD/UIS/Eurostat (2019). See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes (https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en).

Please refer to the Reader's Guide for information concerning symbols for missing data and abbreviations.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933977961

Table B3.3. Trends in upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary first-time graduation rates (2005, 2010 and 2017)
Table B3.3. Trends in upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary first-time graduation rates (2005, 2010 and 2017)

1. Year of reference 2016 instead of 2017.

Source: OECD/UIS/Eurostat (2019). See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes (https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en).

Please refer to the Reader's Guide for information concerning symbols for missing data and abbreviations.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933977980

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