Which careers do students go for?

by Marie-Helene Doumet
Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Career decisions are wrought in complexities. Many students start by looking at their interests, selecting a career in line with their personal affinities or aspirations. They will consider their own self-beliefs in their capacity to perform and succeed in a given career, and then factor in labour market prospects, employment, earnings, and the possibilities to progress in their chosen profession over a lifetime.

But career decisions are not only about students’ choices: they also interact with a number of public policy objectives, such as making education systems more efficient, aligning skills to the demands of the labour market, and helping improve social equity. Some countries have sought to promote certain fields or pathways over others through financial incentives or by opening access. Conversely, other fields impose highly selective admissions processes. As students are confronted with more possibilities, it is essential to ensure that they have the proper guidance to navigate through the wealth of pathways open to them. That will ease the sometimes bumpy transition from education to the labour market.

This 2017 edition of Education at a Glance focuses on fields of study – who studies what across different education pathways . Results show that the most common field of study for tertiary students is business administration and law, whereas the fields of natural sciences, mathematics and statistics or information and communications technology (ICT) are the least attractive. Gender differences in enrolments are striking: 24% of entrants into engineering programmes are women compared to 78% in the field of education. The law of supply and demand determines the employment prospects of tertiary graduates. For example,  although they are among the smallest group of tertiary graduates, ICT graduates enjoy one of the highest employment rates. This signals a shortage of supply in the labour market. Data from a new indicator on the national criteria to apply and enter into tertiary education shows that, as tertiary education expands, some countries have turned towards regulating access to certain fields of study in order to link them more strongly with the needs of the labour market.
However, while educational attainment has been expanding over the past decade, there is no guarantee that everyone will progress smoothly through it. In fact, upper secondary graduation is still a challenge for some. A new indicator on upper secondary completion rates shows that almost one in four upper secondary students does not complete the programme within two years of its theoretical end date – of which most drop out of school entirely.
This is not the only area where equity remains elusive. Education at a Glance dedicates a full chapter to the Sustainable Development Goals, analysing where OECD and partner countries stand in their progress towards achieving “inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Results show that while progress has been made, there is still a long way to go on the road to equity and more inclusion in education.
Want to learn more? Education at a Glance 2017 analyses 28 indicators relating to participation in and progress through education, the financial and human resources invested, and the economic and social outcomes expected across OECD and partner countries.You can access and download the data from the OECD Education at a Glance Database; visualise main results for your country from our Compare Your Country interface ; and better understand the methodology underlying the indicators with the updated OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Indicators.

Education at a Glance (EAG) 2017
OECD Education at a Glance Database
Compare Your Country
OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Indicators

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