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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 14:54 GMT
UK graduates benefit most from degrees
university bar
It pays to go to university, study says
An international comparison shows that graduates in the UK get a high "rate of return" from higher education, in terms of better job prospects and earnings.

The rate of 17% puts the UK "in a group of its own" - compared with 10% to 15% in Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the US and 7% in Italy and Japan, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The OECD's latest annual Education at a Glance indicators appear to bolster the UK government's case for university study to be seen as a worthwhile "investment".

But other studies warn that while the expansion of higher education clearly benefits society as a whole, some individuals might lose out from being "overqualified" and from there being too many graduates.

Balance of factors

The OECD arrived at its estimates for 10 countries for which comparable data are available, by taking into account both higher average earnings and lower risks of unemployment for graduates.

It says they stand to earn substantially more over their working lifetime than people who end their education at secondary level.

It has come up with an "estimated private internal rate of return" that also takes account of the negative impact of the time taken to earn a degree, tuition costs and taxes.

"An investment in higher education is clearly an attractive way for an individual to improve his or her prospects of building up wealth," the OECD says.

Tuition fees

The share of spending on higher education from private sources - using the latest available figures, for 1999 - ranged from 3% or less in Austria, the Flemish Community of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece and Switzerland, to 78% in Korea.

The OECD average was 21%. In the United Kingdom it was 37% - with some universities and, it is reported, some government ministers, arguing for higher tuition fees.

A government report on the future of higher education funding is due this autumn.

UK students cannot be expected to bear any further costs

Mandy Telford, NUS
Last week the higher education minister, Margaret Hodge, refused to rule out an increase in tuition fees or so-called "top-up" fees.

"The extra money you get from being a graduate is still very high - about 400,000 over a lifetime," she said.

"The cost to the individual should be seen as an investment in their future."

The president of the National Union of Students, Mandy Telford, said: "This report shows that UK undergraduates already contribute almost double the average of other OECD nations to the cost of their university education.

"UK students cannot be expected to bear any further costs.

"The introduction of top-up fees would force our students to cough up the most money just to attempt to better themselves."

Downside

And reports from the Institute for Social and Economic Research argue that there is a potential downside to the government's aim of half of young people experiencing higher education by 2010.

They say it is unclear whether the expansion works in quite the simple way that is often implied.

"There might be both gains and losses," the institute said.

"Higher earnings for some might be offset by reduced earnings for others if they find they are overqualified for what they do or, if they are graduates, simply because the graduate market is overcrowded."

Overseas students

The numbers of students enrolled in higher education rose in almost all the 32 OECD member countries between 1995 and 2000, with the biggest rises being in Poland and Hungary.

In Turkey, however, enrolment numbers fell despite an increase in the student-age population.

The report says there is also an increasing tendency for people to study abroad.

China accounted for the largest share of foreign students studying in OECD countries, with 7.1% of the total.

Among OECD countries, students from Japan and Korea comprised the largest groups, at 4.6% and 3.9% respectively, followed by Greece (3.6%), Germany (3.5%), France (3.4%) and Italy (2.7%).

India was the second largest non-OECD provider of foreign students after China, with 3.4% of the total, followed by Morocco (2.7%) and Malaysia (2.4%).

The United States has 28% of these foreign students, followed by the UK with 14%. Germany, France and Australia were also high on the list of destinations.

University drop-out rates vary widely around the average of about a third of students.

The rate is highest in Italy, at nearly 60%. In Japan, Turkey, Ireland and the UK, more than four out of five students complete their courses.

See also:

29 Oct 02 | Education
25 Oct 02 | Education
18 Oct 02 | Education
11 Jul 02 | Education
12 Jul 02 | Mike Baker
12 Feb 03 | Business
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