The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the many inadequacies and inequities in education systems around the world. As governments start rebuilding their economies and people’s livelihoods, it is critical that long-term public spending on education remain a priority to ensure that every young person has the same opportunity to continue education, succeed at school and develop the skills they need to contribute to society, according to a new OECD report.
Education at a Glance 2020, together with an accompanying brochure analysing the impact of the crisis, warns that, while there is uncertainty about the overall impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education expenditure, governments may face difficult decisions on the allocation of public funds as economic growth slows, tax incomes decline and healthcare and welfare costs rise. In 2017, total public expenditure on primary to tertiary education as a percentage of total government expenditure was 11% on average across OECD countries, with the share ranging from around 7% in Greece to around 17% in Chile.
“Strengthening education systems needs to be at the heart of government planning to recover from this crisis and give young people the skills and competencies they need to succeed,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Paris. “It’s critical that every effort be made to ensure that the crisis does not exacerbate the inequalities in education that have been revealed in many countries. The current crisis has tested our ability to deal with large-scale disruptions. It is now up to us to build as its legacy a more resilient society.”
The crisis has hit the vocational and education training (VET) sector particularly hard. This is a major concern, according to the report, as many of the professions that formed the backbone of economic and social life during the lockdown hinge on vocational qualifications.
On average across OECD countries, young adults today are less likely to attain an upper secondary vocational path than their parents were and more likely to pursue an academic university degree. Earnings are also lower: adults with an upper secondary vocational qualification have similar earnings to those with an upper secondary general qualification, but they earn 34% less than tertiary-educated adults on average across OECD countries.
Governments should step up their efforts to make vocational education and vocational qualifications more attractive to young people. This should include enhancing work-based learning and strengthening ties with the private sector. Currently, only one third of upper secondary vocational students take part in combined school and work-based programmes on average across OECD countries.
Making it easier for students to move from vocational to higher education is also key and can improve learning outcomes. Upper secondary vocational students are more likely to complete their qualification when the programme provides access to tertiary education than when it does not. Today, almost seven in ten students are enrolled in programmes that, in theory, enable them to progress to higher degrees.
The crisis has also raised concerns around the value proposition of higher education institutions, with students reluctant to commit large amounts of time and money when much of the course work is only available online. This may affect international student mobility as students question the very value of obtaining a degree abroad.
Any decline in enrolment of international students for the next academic year will hit the core education services universities offer, but also will indirectly affect the financial support they provide to domestic students, as well as research and development activities. While international students represent 6% of tertiary students on average across OECD countries, they represent 20% or more in Australia, Luxembourg and New Zealand. International student mobility is particularly high at doctoral level, where one out of five students on average travels abroad to earn their degree. To remain relevant, universities will need to reinvent learning environments so that digitalisation expands and complements, but does not replace, student-teacher and student-student relationships.
Education at a Glance provides comparable national statistics measuring the state of education worldwide. The report analyses the education systems of the OECD’s 37 member countries, as well as of Argentina, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
Further information on Education at a Glance, including country notes and key data, is available at: /education/education-at-a-glance/.
Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.