The OECD released its figures on the education panorama across the nations belonging to the organisation.
Overall, the 38 countries that belong to the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, have almost doubled the number of young people completing university studies but have lagged in supporting students who opt for vocational training and specific fields in need of employees. A growing area of concern is the number of people in some countries who are neither working nor studying.
Much of the 500-page report, Education at a Glance, focused on ‘tertiary education,’ post-secondary or post-obligatory education such as professional formation, baccalaureate, and university studies.
Across the OECD countries, the percentage of 25-34 year-olds with a university degree or high-level technical training has increased by 20 percentage points from 2011-2021, jumping from 27% to 48%.
Despite these strides, in many OECD countries, including European ones, a significant number of young people do not go on to receive even basic professional or liberal arts post-secondary education. In this regard, according to OECD data, Spain ranked the highest among the OECD’s EU22 [report for 2022] countries with 28% of 25–34 year-olds not completing a baccalaureate or intermediate-level vocational training: considered the “minimum qualification” for “successful participation in the labour market.” Italy followed closely behind, with 23% of young adults lacking post-secondary education. Other European countries’ scores covered a range of percentages, including Slovenia at 4%, Hungary at 13%, and Greece at 8%. Globally, only Turkey at 36%, Mexico at 44%, and Costa Rica at 45% fell below Spain in the percentage of young adults without basic professional formation.
At the same time, Spain is slightly above the OECD average in its number of university graduates, with 49% of 24 to 25-year-olds holding a university degree.
“There is a great polarisation in Spanish education that is unusual,” said Abel Schumann, director of the OECD’s Education Systems Indicators programme, in his presentation of the study at the headquarters of the Ministry of Education.
The gap is reflected in the country’s employment figures as well.
“The level of tertiary education in Spain has continued to grow, which is good, but there are many tertiary education graduates in Spain who cannot find good jobs, while employers say they can’t find people with the skills they need,” Andreas Schleicher, director of the education area of the OECD told the Spanish newspaper ABC. “This is also reflected in the low salary premium for [university] graduates.”
Students simply don’t seem interested in studying the fields most in need of employees, or those that promise the highest salaries.
For example, according to the OECD report, in Spain, the employment rate is almost 90% among those who studied Information and Communication Technologies, while only 6% of new students opt to study the discipline. In Spain, as in other OECD countries, the most popular fields of study are business, administration, and law, which have lower employment and pay rates compared to more specialised and technical fields such as engineering, health, and science.
The primary problem several OECD countries suffer from is the ‘ninis,’ as they are called in Spain, meaning those who neither work nor study. The list of countries where 25 to 29-year-olds are neither working nor studying, despite having completed some form of post-secondary education, is led by South Africa at 39.1%, and then followed by Greece at 34.1%, Turkey at 27.4%, Chile at 24.2%, and Italy at 21.9%. When expanding the range downward to 18-year-olds, Spain reaches 20%, surpassed only by Italy.
The OECD data also shows that higher education is also becoming increasingly international. “In 2020, 6.4 million tertiary students worldwide had crossed a border to study, more than twice the number in 2007,” the study stated.
The number of international students increases with the level of university education sought, from only 5% of bachelor’s students on average in OECD countries, to 14% of master’s students, and 24% of doctoral students.
Another notable but not surprising trend in many OECD countries is that the region surrounding the country’s capitals boasts exceptionally high post-secondary education levels.