OECD Education at a Glance report 2011

14 September 2011

Commenting on the release of the OECD’s Education at a Glance report, Russell Group Director General Dr Wendy Piatt said:

“While we can be justly proud that the UK’s leading universities are among the very best anywhere, the OECD figures signal that without more investment, the UK risks jeopardising the competitive advantage which has made our universities the envy of the world.

“Our research-intensive universities currently punch well above their weight globally but are under-resourced compared with their international competitors.  Looking just at public expenditure on higher education, the UK’s investment of 0.6% of GDP is one of the lowest in the OECD (the average is 1.0%). The UK’s total expenditure on HE amounts to just 1.2% of its GDP: a figure which is outpaced by the US, Australia, Canada, Korea and Japan.

“While our universities are experiencing cuts, other nations are pumping billions more into their universities to gain a competitive edge. The UK spends approximately $15,310 (USD) per student, while the US spends $29,910, Switzerland $21,648 and Canada $20,903. Our universities are already doing more with less, and we will continue to find ways of increasing efficiency.  But we must aim to bring our investment in higher education closer to that of our major competitors, whether through increased public funding, private investment such as philanthropy, or tuition fees backed by a fair system of loans.

“Moreover, we must not try to spread limited funds too thinly otherwise we risk short-changing students, employers and, ultimately, the country as a whole which relies on universities to create the growing, knowledge-based economy we need to recover from the recession.  In a tight fiscal climate, maintaining the quality of teaching and of the student experience must be a greater priority than expanding the number of places.

“These OECD figures also confirm once again the financial pay-off for most graduates from taking a degree in this country. Employees with a degree earn, on average 59% more than employees who left education at secondary school level.  Research published elsewhere has also shown that Russell Group graduates receive an average 10% top-up over those with other degrees.  In an uncertain world, a high-quality degree remains a reliable investment.

“Today’s figures also show that the UK’s participation rate for 15-19 year olds is very disappointing.  We are wholeheartedly committed to broadening access so that every student with the qualifications, potential and determination to succeed at a Russell Group university has the opportunity do so, whatever their background.   But one of the key challenges we face is that too few young people from disadvantaged backgrounds continue in education beyond the age of 16. 

“As the UK’s economic competitiveness becomes increasingly dependent upon high-tech industries and skilled graduates, our leading research-intensive universities will be crucial to future growth and prosperity. Of course, there is a cost involved in ensuring universities are adequately resourced, but the costs of not doing so are much greater.”

Notes to editors

  1. The US spends 2.7% of its GDP on higher education.
  2. This approximate wage premium can vary considerably according to the subject studied and university attended. Chevalier, A. and Conlon, G. Does it pay to go to a prestigious university? Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE (March 2003)
  3. In the UK 74% of 15-19 year olds are in education.  The OECD average is 82%.

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