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Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
UK education gap 'frightening'
Those with university degrees tended to earn more
The UK is producing more university graduates than any other industrialised country, but the gap between the most and least well-educated is still critical, research suggests.

The UK was second only to the United States in the adult illiteracy table, compiled as part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) annual analysis of education.

The OECD report - which compares data from 30 developed countries covering the period 1995-99 - stressed the results of adult literacy rates were the product of "outcomes of education and learning over many decades".

Click here for the list of OECD countries

But one of the authors of the report, Andreas Schleicher, said: "In terms of future challenges and existing disparities in the adult population, I would think that is quite a significant challenge for your education system."

And the new Education Secretary, Estelle Morris - working to fulfil an election pledge that 750,000 adults would have the chance to develop basic skills - admitted some of the figures were "frightening".

University triumph

In terms of higher education, though, the UK was leading the field, with the highest rate - 35.6% - of students graduating with a university degree.

Enrolment to UK universities rose 15% between 1995 and 1999, and only Finland, France and Ireland had more science graduates in the labour market.

Students in the UK spent more time in education than in most OECD countries, the report suggested, with a five-year-old likely to have 19 years in full-time classes, compared with an OECD average of 16.7 years.

hand getting change out of till
In only six OECD countries was public spending in line with economic growth
And UK nationals were more likely to undergo further training once they left university - nearly 40% of 25 to 64 year olds took part, against an OECD average of 29%.

But the OECD report also showed a large gender difference in the achievement of 13 year olds in the UK in maths and science.

Boys were scored more than 30 points higher than girls - a gap which was only higher in the Czech Republic.

The average science result for 13 year olds in England, though, had improved slightly between 1995 and 1999.


The report found OECD governments were expanding their investment in educational institutions, in response to growing demand.

It can't be right if we are trailing some of our competitor nations

Estelle Morris
But only in a few countries - Turkey, Greece, New Zealand, Portugal, Denmark and Italy - was public spending in line with overall economic growth.

Public spending on education in the US, as a percentage of GDP, had dropped below the OECD average of 5.3% since 1997.

The UK government devoted 11.9% of total government expenditure to educational institutions, up from 11.2% in 1995.

The gap between countries over the expansion of education has widened - while one in three school leavers in the UK, New Zealand, Finland, the Netherlands and the US gets a first university degree, only one in six reaches this level in Turkey, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Austria, Germany and Italy.

Education and employment

The report found that the higher the level of an individual's education, the greater their rewards in terms of employment prospects and earnings.

A 30 to 34 year old university graduate from an OECD country was found to earn an average of 60% more than someone in the same age bracket with just post-14 schooling and a further education qualification.

And these differences in earnings tended to be greater in the UK than in the majority of OECD countries.

For example, while unemployment among 30 to 44- year-old university graduates is lower than most OECD countries, unemployment among those 30 to 44 year olds - with no schooling beyond the age of 14 and no further education - stands at 15.5% for men and 14.8% for women, compared with the OECD average of 9.1% and 11.2% respectively.

Women in all OECD countries tended to earn less than men with similar levels of educational achievement.

In the UK, women aged between 30 and 44 with a university degree earned 61% of the average salary for the equivalent male, compared to the OECD average of 68%.


Ms Morris, said: "I think it is a real challenge for all of us when their whole experience of education is one where it has let them down".

She said that, while some of the figures were frightening, adult education had been a priority for the Labour government over the past four years.

It was important to put people into an environment where they were willing to learn, Ms Morris said, as many had been put off education when they were at school.

"It certainly is a priority and it can't be right if we are trailing some of our competitor nations," she said.

The OECD is made up of the following countries:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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See also:

27 Jun 00 | Education
UK suffers skills shortage
27 Jun 00 | Education
Pledge to boost skills
15 Jun 00 | Europe
Western literacy levels 'too low'
22 May 00 | Education
Basic skills for adult learners
03 Apr 00 | Education
Boost for basic skills
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