Education at a Glance 2019: 5 key findings

By Marie-Hélène Doumet

Senior Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

For many, the start of the school year means new beginnings: new school supplies, classes, teachers and friends. It’s also a good time for policy makers to take stock of their education system and compare it to others across the world, as they consider new measures for the year ahead.  

The 2019 edition of our Education at a Glance report provides a comprehensive overview of education systems in OECD member and partner countries, including detailed indicators across all levels of education – with a focus on higher education, in particular.  The publication, released today, provides an enormous trove of data to consult and pore over, and sheds light on important trends shaping the future of education today. Below are five key takeaways.

1. Participation in early childhood education is on the rise, but remains low in many countries for children under the age of 3.

Early childhood education and care delivers clear benefits for the cognitive and social development of children, so it’s encouraging to see that participation among  children aged 3 to 5 has increased from 2005 to 2017, rising from 76% to 87% on average across OECD countries. But participation is lower among children under the age of 3: only 26% are enrolled in a formal early childhood education and care programme that offers intentional education objectives, on average across OECD countries.  

2. Spending on primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education increased over the past decade despite a decreasing student population. Still, as of 2018, 15% of young adults in OECD countries did not have an upper secondary education.

Although more young adults are attaining higher levels of education, on average, a significant share are being left behind.  In some OECD and partner countries, more than 20% of 25-34 year-olds do not have an upper secondary education, even though education spending has increased. In 2016, OECD countries spent an average of 3.5% of GDP on primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary institutions, and public expenditure at this level rose by 18% at this level since 2005 despite a decreasing student population. As we detail in this year’s report, smaller classes and higher teachers’ salaries were the primary drivers behind this increase.

3. Although more adults are attaining tertiary education, women outnumber men more than ever before.

In 2018, 44% of 25-34 year-olds in OECD countries had attained a tertiary degree, up from 35% a decade ago. This is the highest share ever reported among this age group in Education at a Glance, which has been released every year since 1992. But this expansion has mostly benefited young women, as men are less likely to both enter and complete their tertiary degree.  In 2018, about one out of two women had a higher education degree, compared to one out of three men.

4. High-demand sectors may struggle to find the skills they need.

Labour market demand for tertiary-educated adults has kept pace with the higher supply of tertiary graduates, though some sectors that are in high demand may struggle to find the skills they need. Although engineering, manufacturing and construction, and information and communication technologies are associated with the best employment prospects and earnings, the share of tertiary graduates earning degrees in these fields remains low, on average: only 14% in engineering, manufacturing and construction in 2017, and just 4% in information and communication technologies.  In contrast, more than 40% of tertiary graduates earned a degree in business, administration and law, arts and humanities, or the social sciences.

5. Fewer people are entering the teaching profession.

Teachers are the backbone of every education system, yet shifting demographics and perceptions around working conditions have raised concerns of future teacher shortages. In most OECD countries, the share of primary and secondary teachers among 50-59 year-olds is larger than the share among 25-34 year-olds.

As students in the northern hemisphere embark on a new school year this month – many wearing a mix of excitement and anxiety on their faces – we should not forget how much of their future, and by extension, our own, will hinge on policy decisions made today. For policy makers, then, the start of the school year should be a time to reflect about what influences effective learning throughout an individual’s educational journey, from early childhood to adult life.  Today’s education system will shape tomorrow’s society: let’s not waste new beginnings.

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Register for a free webinar on key findings from Education at a Glance with Andreas Schleicher (10 September 2019, 16:00 CEST)