Budget cuts and inequalities of opportunity – OECD’s Education at a Glance 2015


The OECD’s flagship publication, Education at a Glance 2015 (EAG 2015) ( http://www.oecd.org/education/education-at-a-glance-19991487.htm ), provides a comprehensive analysis of indicators coming from PISA, PIAAC, TALIS and other reports on the state of individual learning results and the quality of education systems. Two results, in particular, stand out: education spending has been hit by the crisis due to austerity measures and budget cuts and existing inequalities regarding the incomes and participation of adult workers in training programmes persist, showing a bias towards better skilled workers.

The main results show the following trends affecting most education systems in OECD countries that need more attention from policy makers:

Between 2010 and 2012, public spending on education fell in many OECD countries
In more than one in three OECD countries, public spending on education was cut due to the effects of the crisis and, in some countries, amplified by austerity measures: “During the shorter period 2008-12, the height of the economic crisis, the share of public expenditure devoted to primary to tertiary education decreased by 2% as public expenditure on education grew at a lower rate (or decreased at a faster rate) than public expenditure on all other services in 16 of the 26 OECD countries with available data.”

Notable exceptions are Brazil and Israel, where it increased by 3 percentage points or more. In 2012, OECD countries spent an average of 5.3% of their GDP on educational institutions from primary to tertiary education. Prior to the crisis, expenditure increased faster than GDP growth in two out of three countries.

This had a direct impact on primary and secondary teachers’ salaries, that were either frozen or cut, further increasing the pay gap between teachers’ and benchmark salaries of workers with a similar level of education. This, in turn, can have a negative impact on educational quality and recruitment. In the same vein, funding for professional development and training of teachers also saw cuts in many OECD countries.

NEETS: one in five 20-24 year-olds is neither employed nor in education or training
EAG 2015 confirms the high number of youth that are neither in employment nor in education or training (NEETs). The TUAC has called on the OECD to look beyond “skills mismatches”. There needs to be a whole-of-government approach addressing the growth in temporary jobs and forms of precarious work for young people, often with no or insufficient social protection, and training opportunities. The G20 adopted a “youth target” at their summit in Antalya one week ago and committed to reducing the share of young people who are most at risk of being permanently left behind in the labour market by 15% by 2025.

The TUAC is calling for the following policy actions to achieve and go beyond the target: (i) youth guarantees to keep young people in touch with the labour market and ensure that they receive quality employment or a training place once they have completed their formal education; (ii) quality apprenticeship systems through tripartite social dialogue, and alternatively, special youth training centres, which provide job seekers with training and guidance;  (iii) higher investment in quality public education, as well as training and workforce development, including by employers, e.g. through the implementation of training funds.

Employment and wage effects
The report points to significant differences in employment and wage rates according to education levels: 80% of tertiary-educated adults are employed, compared with over 70% of people with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education, and less than 60% of adults without upper secondary education. Moreover, “tertiary-educated adults earn about 60% more, on average, than adults with upper secondary as their highest level of educational attainment”.

EAG, in contrast to previous reports, points to differences between higher education degrees with more opportunities in the labour market – and higher earnings – for those who hold master’s degrees. While workers with a bachelor’s or equivalent degree earn about 60% more than those with upper secondary education, those with a master’s, doctoral or equivalent degrees earn more than twice as much.

Inequalities in Educational and Training Opportunities
According to data from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) in 2012, only “60% of workers in the most skilled occupations participate in employer-sponsored formal and/or non-formal education, while about 25% of workers in elementary occupations do”. In general, only 50% of adults on average participate in such training programmes, with some variations across the OECD (e.g. more than 60% in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway, to less than 40% in France, Italy, Poland, etc.).  ICT skills also determine participation in formal and non-formal education as only 18% of adults that do not have computer proficiency have access to such programmes (versus 60% with good ICT skills).

In regard to gender equality in educational achievement and opportunities, gaps in educational attainment in STEM subject areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and access to training remain considerable across the OECD area.

Class sizes matter
The OECD data confirms that larger classes are correlated with less time spent on teaching and learning, and more time spent on keeping order in the classroom.