School-to-work Transition Statistics

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The OECD’s Education At A Glance 2013 analyses OECD member states’ education systems during the period 2000-2011; looking at everything from enrolment rates to labour market transition, it offers a comprehensive dissection of what’s going on in education. The international scope of its brief puts statistics in context, allowing for comparisons to be drawn across borders. In this article we will look at how UK school-to-work transition compare to other OECD member states.

The report suggests that education is an effective buffer to unemployment rather than a guarantee of employment. The higher the educational attainment, the less likely one is to be unemployed. The unemployment rates speak for themselves in this regard; 3.9% of people with a tertiary education are unemployed, a figure that rises to 5.9% among those with an upper secondary education. Both of these figures compare favourably with the 11% unemployment rate among people with lower educational attainment. However, even those with a tertiary education have not been insulated from the negative overall impact of the global economic crisis. In 2000 the unemployment rate among those with a tertiary education stood at only 2%, half of what it was in 2011.

Opportunities for those who fall out of the UK system early are particularly limited. The proportion of people without an upper secondary education who are neither employed nor in education or training (NEET) has exceeded the OECD average by about 10 percentage points since 2006. Furthermore, the greatest increase in the prevalence of NEET-hood has been among young people (20-24). Among this cohort rates have risen from 15.4% in 2000 to 19.1% in 2011 and eclipse the OECD average of 18.4%.

The positive influence of education does not begin and end with making it easier to find employment. Once you have a job, higher educational attainment generally translates into higher wages. In 2011, a tertiary graduate’s wage was 57% higher than those of a person with upper secondary education and 129% higher than for a person with below upper secondary education. This is part of an escalating international trend. Among OECD countries a widening wage gap means that those with a tertiary education earned 64% more than upper secondary graduates in 2011 – up from a 49% difference in 2000.

In the wake of such figures, it should come as no surprise that the popularity of tertiary education has been growing steadily with 13% more people going on to third level education in 2011 than in 2000. Indeed, the proportion of people in the UK (39%) attending tertiary education is considerably ahead of the OECD average (32%) and of competing economies such as France (30%) and Germany (28%). Moreover, of those aged 25-64, more have a tertiary education (39%) than an upper secondary education (37%) as their highest level of attainment.

While the relatively high rates of tertiary attainment are indeed positive for the UK, they tell only one side of the story. The UK has one of the lowest enrollment rates of 15-19 year-olds (78%) and 20-29 year-olds (19%) in the OECD. In comparison, the rates in France (84% and 20%, respectively), Germany (92% and 32%, respectively) and the United States (80% and 27%, respectively) are all markedly ahead. Even on this front there is reason for optimism. The proportion of 15-19 year-olds enrolled in education in the UK grew by more than double the OECD average between 2006 and 2011.

The report underscores the importance of education in facilitating the transition to the working world and once there – making more money. At a time when record youth unemployment coincides with the most highly educated workforce in history, it is evident that simply educating everyone to the nth degree will not create a utopian full-employment economy. Ignoring the increasing proportion of people attending University, one of the report’s key findings was highlighting the number of young people who fall through the cracks. The question needs to be asked as to why? What makes continued education less enticing for 15-19 year-olds in the UK than for their German or French peers? Clearly, education needs to be more in tune with the needs of these youth – afterall you don’t easily turn your back on something that interests you.

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