More than 23 million students from the OECD and other G20 countries start their academic career this year, the OECD reports in ‘Skills Beyond Schools’. “They are about to commit themselves to years of study, expecting to gain not just a diploma but also the specific knowledge and skills required to fulfill the needs of their profession and their everyday life. How they do will have a tremendous impact, not just on their lives but also on the future of societies at large.”
In recent decades, a growing number of people have enrolled in universities. On average between 1995 and 2011, the university entry rose from 39 percent to 60 percent. This growth was a result of growing demand on one hand and the implementation of the Bologna Process. Across the OECD older and international students have had growing opportunities to enter higher education, leading to a larger and more diverse pool of students.
Changing global talent pool
There has been a shift in the geographical shift in the global talent pool. Today, China has the largest proportion of new entrants, followed by India and the United States. The academic gender gap has also been closed in the last decade, it has even been reversed. In 2011 52 percent of all new students were women. Only in Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and Saudi Arabia female students are outnumbered by men.
“Traditionally, students entered university programs immediately after completing upper secondary education, and this remains true in many countries. For example, in Belgium, Japan and Indonesia, the average age of entrants to the university is 19 or below. However, the average age of new entrants varies across countries because of differences in the typical age at which students graduate from upper secondary education, the intake capacity of institutions and the opportunity cost of entering the labor market before enrolling in tertiary education. This is the case for countries like Iceland, New Zealand and Sweden, where the average age of entrants is 25 or over. On average, students across the OECD and other G20 countries will be 22 years old by the time they attend their first lecture and will spend 4.4 years studying full time in university.”
The international student is Asian
New students are significantly more mobile than previous generations and has more than doubled in the last decade, the OECD report demonstrates. Four percent of all new students is expected to leave their country to study. “In 2011, the largest numbers of foreign students came from China, India and Korea. Asian students made up 53% of foreign students enrolled in tertiary education across OECD and G20 countries, with three out of four of them enrolled in an OECD country.”
The study shows that the more educated parents are, the more likely young people are to enter tertiary education. On average, 20-34 year-olds from a highly educated family are almost twice as likely to be in higher education than their peers. This effect is strongest in Portugal and Turkey, where young people from highly educated families are more than three times as likely to enter university.
Needed: Belgian female engineers
Finland is the odd-one-out where engineering is the most popular field of study. Across the OECD policy is created to attract more students to science and engineering, in Germany for example with considerable success. Obama made it one of his educational priorities to attract more engineering talent. In all countries, except Korea and Saudi Arabia where humanities are most popular, most students start a study in social sciences, business and law.
On average, only a quarter of all students enter STEM-fields. Besides, women are severely under-represented, only 14 percent of female new entrants into tertiary education chose science-related fields, compared with 39 percent of the men. Among new entrants, the proportion of women choosing science-related fields ranged from 5 percent in Belgium and Japan to 19 percent in Greece, Indonesia, Italy and Mexico. Among men, the proportion in these fields ranged from 18 percent in Argentina to 58 percent in Finland.