Intriguing chart of who’s been getting their skates on in education in the last generation

Certainly Korea has. The US, not so much!  As usual, Canada does very well – they do well on lots of measures of good public policy.

Source: OECD

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Matt C
10 years ago

This is particularly in light of Tyler Cowen’s “great stagnation” thesis, which partly rests upon the idea that the US is now more-or-less delivering an optimal quantity of education and that further attempts to expand the proportion of the population who are educated to a particular level will prove fruitless. If Canada can do it, why not the US?

David Turnbull
David Turnbull
10 years ago

What’s the X axis scale?

FDB
FDB
10 years ago

That would mean Canada, Japan and Korea have over 90% tertiary-qualified populations, which would be very surprising to me.

I reckon they’re 10% bands, with the graph ending at 60%

David Turnbull
David Turnbull
10 years ago

I assumed 6 segments at first, but I thought perhaps ~90% of Canadians with tertiary education was too high. That would also mean ~65% for Aus, which also seems too high.

So I have to wonder what the scale is, because it reminds me of the classic graph deception of having an exaggerated scale.. at least if Edward Tufte is on the money with that one.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur(@don-arthur)
10 years ago

FDB is right. The axis ends at 60%

The percentages of 25-34 year olds with at least tertiary education is:

Canada 56%
Korea 56%
Japan 54%
Australia 41%

You can download the data here: OECD Factbook 2010: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

I don’t know where the OECD is getting it’s figures from. Obviously not the ABS.

desipis
10 years ago

That does raise the question of how ‘tertiary education’ is defined.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Matt C, this graph shows that Canada ‘can do it’, Tyler Cowen’s argument is that there is no point doing it. This graph doesn’t answer that question at all.

Conrad, the ABS data looked broadly consistent to me? 25% with Bachelor’s degrees and a few more percentage with diplomas, versus, very roughly, an average across both age groups of about 30 for the OECD?

I’m not convinced how much benefit there is in increasing that number so much, certainly I think there is a far higher immediate (and often lifetime) financial reward to trade school for many young Australians today. Probably better psychological reward (fulfillment) as well.

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

Patrick — the OECD is claiming 41% not 30%. 40% is of course the random number Gillard uses as a target.

“I’m not convinced how much benefit there is in increasing that number so much”

Until the graduate salary premium diminishes (and, for that matter, the unemployment premium and the probability you will have a better job), I’m not sure under why you would claim this.

“certainly I think there is a far higher immediate (and often lifetime) financial reward to trade school for many young Australians today.”

That’s obviously a-priori true because you don’t get paid to go to university (excluding if you get YA) but you to do a trade. Perhaps one could look at the opposite end of the age spectrum here also. Because I don’t dig holes, fix roofs on uneven surfaces, use heavy machinery etc., I’m probably going to be able to work longer than someone than does, I’m going to have better hearing, I’m going to have less joint problems etc. .

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

Sorry Patrick, I misundestood the first of those — I’m not sure if diplomas get counted (or for that matter certificates, which universities offer also, which I assume arn’t). My take was that tertiary education = degrees, but that could be wrong, so I guess it depends on what you want to count. If diplomas do get counted, then yes, it is quite a similar figure. This also leads to the problem of different places having different standards for what constitutes tertiary education, so the table might not be as useful as it first seems.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
10 years ago

@8: “Tertiary education includes ….tertiary-type “B programmes” , which are more occupationally-oriented and lead to direct labour market access.” So it sounds like TAFE counts as tertiary. No wonder Australia has increased from 25% to 42%!

Really, these kinds of comparisons are worse than useless, both over time and certainly between countries where standards of what constitutes “tertiary” are as arbitrary as what counts as “democratic”.

Total %gdp spent on education at different age-groups might mean something, but the statistics presented here are classic OECD jibberish. A more informative statistical graph would be a time series of # people employed in OECD statistics group!

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

I think, Conrad, some diplomas count:

Tertiary education includes both tertiary-type “A programmes” , which are largely theoretically-based and designed to provide qualifications for entry to advanced research programmes and professions with high skill requirements; and tertiary-type “B programmes” , which are more occupationally-oriented and lead to direct labour market access. Upper secondary education typically follows completion of lower secondary schooling. Lower secondary education completes provision of basic education, usually in a more subject-oriented way and with more specialised teachers.

I don’t think the different standards matter because the OECD doesn’t usually count self-assessed data and does not appear to in this case.

It seems that nearly any TAFE course counts as well:

Tertiary-type B programmes (ISCED 5B) are typically shorter than those of tertiary-type A and focus on practical, technical or occupational skills for direct entry into the labour market, although some theoretical foundations may be covered in the respective programmes. They have a minimum duration of two years full-time equivalent at the tertiary level.

As for the financial returns, well I know more than a couple of builders/carpenters/et al who have no need to work particularly long because they have already made enough to retire comfortably on at 50! Awesomely convincing anecdotal evidence, I know, but still…

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

I could give you the same anecdotes about my uni friends — some of them are rather rich, although the main reason is that they were the ones who were motivated to work really hard, take risks and run their own businesses. Their degrees simply gave them a good base to start from. Could they have done it or something similar without their degree? Perhaps some could have, although I would suspect many wouldn’t have since most would have needed some work experience in the area before branching out themselves. Perhaps this is one reason that having more people with degrees is good — because a small proportion of them will be especially productive and this small proportion are the ones that I assume create a lot of the small businesses that exist.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
10 years ago

Despite being a higher ed teacher myself, I have serious doubts whether pushing more people to get degrees makes any sense. I doubt that it even makes sense to push quite a few to stay in high school to year 12. All they’re doing is wasting their own time and that of their teachers, while distracting the other kids who actually want to learn in an academic stream and are capable of doing so.

That is true to just as great an extent of university in my experience, where perhaps 30% of students just aren’t capable of higher order cognitive activity however well they’re taught. That isn’t necessarily to say that they shouldn’t be awarded a degree because we need journeypersons in any profession, just that they need to be aware of their own limitations e.g. in law that they should join a suburban firm and brief competent counsel as soon as they encounter anything more complicated than a cottage conveyance or a local court debt recovery matter or crash and bash. Dennis Denuto in The Castle is cinema verité not a caricature.

God knows what will happen if the federal government achieves its objective of having a much higher proportion of the population complete higher education. Why is this a sensible objective? Gaining a degree is of little or no use in a trade or similar vocational occupation or in most clerical jobs. It might perhaps be for some office jobs if students were actually capable of learning higher order cognitive skills, because a flexible workforce capable of exercising initiative must be an advantage. But the reality is that the bottom 30% of the current student body will never be capable of that however they’re taught, and aiming at increasing the proportion of the population in higher ed will simply mean that we’ll be approaching 50% of degree holders whose qualification signifies not very much. This is already the way it works in some US and UK universities, where the lack of an Honours degree at the very least from Oxbridge signals inherent sub-mediocrity to an employer who understands the system. Do we want to follow down that path of meaningless credentialism, or should we aim at boosting the resources and prestige attached to trade and vocational (VET) courses and readily allow kids to leave school at year 10 to pursue them? I know what I think , despite the fact that my self-interest as a teacher at a fairly run-of-the-mill higher ed institution would suggest I should be supporting expanding the size of our target market. OTOH I’d be interested to hear the effects of a substantially higher proportion of the population in higher ed in Canada and NZ (or do they just have a much higher proportion in VET, as Patrick’s comment #13 seems to suggest is at least possible the way the figures are compiled?).

BTW These comments don’t apply to real mature age students (i.e. those over about 30), even those who gain entry to higher ed through VET qualifications. Those students are invariably focused, motivated and hard-working and entirely capable of achieving at the required level. It’s the run-of-the-mill school leavers and students in their twenties who arguably just shouldn’t be there. They need to be out in the workforce until they grow up a bit.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
10 years ago

I really don’t understand your comment Patrick. The graph shows comparison between countries and between generations. If the definition of “tertiary” is different between countries that affects the interpretation. If the local landscape changes over 25 years to encourage more people in tertiary B that also affects the interpretation. If we do not know the extent of these effect then that makes the graphs….uninterpretable.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

The feeling is mutual Chris. Why do you think that the definition of tertiary changes between countries? Why do you think it has changed over time? The survey appears to, or at least purports to, apply a consistent standard. What am I missing?

And what do you want from the poor graph? The meaning of life, death and the universe? No, it is not a 2500 page social science textbook, it is a graph. It tells you about the percentage of two given swathes of the population in a variety of countries who have completed ‘Tertiary Type B’ or ‘Tertiary Type A’ education.

If you are curious as to why the results are different then perhaps the graph has served its exact purpose, non?

Q: have you ever encountered an ‘interpretable’ graph, by that standard?

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Conrad, see Ken’s comments with which I wholeheartedly agree. I strongly doubt that significant percentages of the non-uni population would be more productive as a result of going to uni, I think they’d be more dole-bludgy or stuck in dead-end non-fulfilling jobs (did Marx appreciate that his capitalist nightmare of complete separation of labor and capital would actually come to fruition in local government?).

As tradies, they seem to be quite productive and increasingly well-rewarded for it.

David Turnbull
David Turnbull
10 years ago

Patrick, they may not be more productive, but they will be significantly less likely to be ignorant, less susceptible to dog-whistle politics, make logical decisions.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

You wish, DT. You probably think that Frank Rich is an insightful writer, too. Don’t blame the dog whistle for your own inability to communicate.

David Turnbull
David Turnbull
10 years ago

Patrick, I’m not talking about not getting the message across.
I’m more worried about the worrying prevalence of illiteracy and innumeracy that PR/marketing/politicians subsist on.

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

An awful lot of tertiary ‘arts’ graduates earn less than a hairdresser. Seriously challenge the assumption that inflation of the tertiary sector is a good thing , for the country.