International Comparisons of Education
- By Deborah P. Moore
- July 1st, 2016
International comparisons of education can help direct
the development of policies and assist in building more effective
and equitable education systems. The Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Directorate for
Education and Skills contributes to these efforts by developing
and analysing the quantitative, internationally comparable
indicators that it publishes annually in Education at a Glance.
Comparing the United States education system to that in other
countries helps us recognize the similarities, the differences,
where improvement is needed and incentives to invest.
Key finding in their recently released included:
On average, over 80 percent of tertiaryeducated
adults are employed, compared with over 70
percent of people with upper secondary or post-secondary
non-tertiary education, and less than 60 percent of adults
without upper secondary education. One in five 20-24
year-olds is neither employed nor in education or training.
Tertiary-educated adults also earn about 60
percent more, on average, than adults with upper secondary
as their highest level of educational attainment. In general,
employment rates and earnings increase as an adult’s level
of education and skills increases; but the labour market still
regards a diploma or degree as the primary indication of a
Adults with higher educational attainment
are more likely to report that they are in good health,
that they participate in volunteer activities, that they trust
others, and that they feel they have a say in government.
- Graduation Rates
Based on current patterns, it is estimated
that an average of 85 percent of today’s young people
in OECD countries will complete upper secondary education
over their lifetimes. An average of 35 percent of today’s young
people across OECD countries are expected to graduate from
tertiary education at least once before the age of 30.
The education sector felt a delayed reaction
to the global economic crisis of 2008. Between 2010 and
2012, as GDP began to rise following the slowdown, public
expenditure on educational institutions fell in more than
one in three OECD countries. In 2012, OECD countries spent
an average of 5.3 percent of their GDP on educational
institutions from primary to tertiary education; 11 countries
with available data spent more than 6 percent of their GDP;
U.S. spending was 6.4 percent.
- Incentives to Invest in Education
Not only does education
pay off for individuals, but the public benefits of education,
in greater tax revenues and social contributions from a larger
proportion of tertiary-educated adults, also outweigh the cost.
On average across the 26 OECD countries with available
data, the net public return for a woman who completed upper
secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education is about
USD 48 000 compared with a woman who did not complete that
level of education. For a man, the net public return is USD 70 300.
Across OECD countries, the net public return on investment
for a woman with tertiary education is USD 65 500 over her
lifetime — 1.2 times the public cost of investment in her education.
For a man, the net public return is over USD 127 400, which is
almost 2.5 times the public cost of investment in his education.
It is crucial for policy makers to understand the
economic incentives for individuals to invest in education.
Devoting time and money in education is an investment in
Source: OECD (2015), Education at a Glance 2015: OECD
Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris.
For more information or to view the complete report, go
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.