What does the OECD report tell us?
The report itself is 497 pages and contains a vast range of comparative figures and tables. In relation to access to education, Chapter B. 'Access to education, participation and progress' contains the most data of direct interest to TEFS. HEPI provides a very short synopsis points to take from the report with ‘15 things worth glancing at in the new Education at a Glance’.
A general take on the data is that Higher Education has expanded a great deal across the countries in the study in the last 10 years. This is certainly the case in the UK where now almost 50% of the population from 25 to 34 years old have benefitted from tertiary education. However, in relative terms the UK has dropped in ranking from 6th position to 9th position in the intervening years. This trend is worrying and emphasises that there should be no room for complacency.
What OECD does not tell us.
It is important to note that the OECD report covers the period up to 2018 and much of the report is based on 2016/2017 data. But, with major political seismic movements associated with Brexit ongoing, it would be foolhardy to be complacent. The HEPI overview makes the point in ‘15 things worth glancing at in the new Education at a Glance’ that “The problem of young people doing nothing (the so-called NEETs – not in education, employment or training) is now ‘pretty much under control’”. Indeed the OECD data, based on 2017 figures, shows that the UK does very well on this measure. Those that have tertiary education are much less likely to be NEETs (neither employed nor in education or training) with the figure well below 10%. However, there is no room for complacency in this respect. The OECD data also shows that there is a very high percentage of those with no upper secondary or tertiary education that are NEET and the UK does not fare so well in this respect. The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) data for 2019 (Young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), UK: August 2019) reveals an overall upward trend in NEETS since it seems to bottom out in 2016. Figure 1 shows that there is a persistent problem that is probably not going away and may be getting worse.
Whilst access to university appears to be well established in the UK, the OECD report does not indicate how fair this might be. The suspicion is that access is more available to those with strong family finances. Indeed there are many indicators that suggest this is the case. An earlier report by the OECD from April this year ‘How does socio-economic status influence entry into tertiary education?’ (EDUCATION INDICATORS IN FOCUS APRIL 2019) might give more clues to the factors involved. However, the UK does not feature in many of their comparators within the report and this ‘oversight’ should be rectified to reveal our true position.