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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 September 2007, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Graduates keep higher earnings
bar chart showing university entry rates
A sample of countries comparing the proportions going to university
Going to university continues to give young people in the UK a strong advantage in their earning power, shows an international education survey.

For those graduates who left UK universities a decade ago, their average earnings are 77% higher than non-graduates, says the OECD report.

And having more graduates does not dilute the advantages, says the survey.

Countries which produce greater numbers of people with degrees generate more employment for non-skilled workers too.

Across the affluent, industrialised world, higher education systems are being expanded to create a better-educated workforce.

The annual survey of education systems in the industrialised world examines the consequences of the increasing number of graduates.

Job opportunities

And so far there are no indications that the jobs market is being overloaded with graduates - or that these extra graduates are being forced into taking non-graduate jobs.


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Instead it shows a consistent picture of pupils who leave education after school facing disadvantage in the workplace compared with those who stay on to university.

For UK workers in the 30 to 44-year-old age bracket, there is a 77% earnings advantage for someone with a degree - a much higher advantage than in most industrialised countries.

Among the wider workforce, aged between 25 and 64 years, the graduate advantage is 55% - with women's earning power particularly benefiting from having a degree.

This year's survey also considers whether the expansion of graduate numbers has "crowded out" non-graduates from the labour market.

But it found instead that increasing the number of graduates stimulated a wider growth in employment - and that non-skilled workers had more job opportunities.

The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Steve Sinnott, said: "The report rebuts the corrosive messages, from those determined to limit the numbers of youngsters going to university, that university expansion has led to a watering down in the value of qualifications."

He said the message from the OECD was "unequivocal".

"Raising the staying-on rate to 18 and expanding the number of university places is good for the country and good for young people."

He added: "The next step is to remove the barriers that prevent young people from socially deprived backgrounds from staying on in education after 16."


The international survey also shows a picture of increasing divergence in the higher education systems in different countries - which OECD analyst Andreas Schleicher says will shape their future economies.

There are countries which now have high levels of entry into higher education - such as

  • Australia (82%)
  • Sweden (76%)
  • Norway (63%)
a middle group, such as
  • UK (51%)
  • USA (56%)
then a group with much lower level of entry, such as
  • Austria (37%)
  • Germany (36%).

Mr Schleicher says that the countries with low levels of graduates are still operating in an economic model based on manufacturing and large numbers of jobs for unskilled workers.

The future wealth of these countries could be very different from countries which have invested in creating a much wider pool of graduates to serve a "knowledge economy".

The figures from the OECD also show that the group of countries with high numbers of graduates is going to expand - with places such as Hungary, the USA and Iceland set to have more than 60% of young people entering university.

UK slips back in graduate numbers
18 Sep 07 |  Education
Graduate jobs rise, but pay down
09 Jul 07 |  Education
Graduates' starting pay 'rising'
14 Jul 04 |  Education
'Global warning' to universities
15 Sep 04 |  Education

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