Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The real message from the OECD report

Today's newspapers are full of tales of educational woe drawn from the latest OECD survey, Education at a Glance. For the Times, it vindicates their eccentric campaign to stop government efforts to create a level playing field for poorer toddlers, though the report actually says of the UK in this respect:
90% of children 4 and under (as a percentage of the population aged 3 to 4) are participating in pre-primary programmes (OECD average 70%). This is all the more impressive [my italics] as the rate increased from 51% in 1998 to 90% in 2006.
It is true that class sizes are a little skewed in the UK, though teaching assistant numbers are relatively high, and there is no evidence that a difference of one or two students in older primary classes has any impact on standards, despite right wing think tank Civitas's wish to divert masses of government funding to the project.

But what the papers neglect is a more worrying trend in the UK: our undergraduate population is growing at a relatively slower rate than other OECD countries, despite a strong level of vocational degree entry.
In 2000 the UK had, at 37%, the fourth highest graduation rates for tertiary-type A programmes, well above the OECD average which then stood at 28%. Although the graduation rate in the UK had increased to 39% by 2006, the OECD average increased at a much faster rate to 37%, with eleven countries showing now higher graduation rates: Australia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden. Rates of current participation suggest that more countries are likely to surpass UK graduation rates. The increase in tertiary enrolment between 1995 and 2005, which will influence future graduation rates, was, at 33%, considerably below the OECD average level of 40% and well below increases in the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Korea, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic and Sweden and partner countries Brazil, Chile, Estonia and Israel, that ranged from 44% to 161% during the same period.
Could the fact that this trend is virtually ignored by our papers have anything to do with the years they have spent bemoaning our relatively modest rates of student growth, seeing them as a dimunition of standards rather than a necessary contributor to our global competitiveness?

No comments: