Higher education’s crisis dividend

©Reuters

There has always been some debate about whether higher education is really something that everyone should be encouraged to pursue. If there aren’t enough jobs requiring university-level degrees to go around, why spend the time and money–public or private–to obtain a degree? 

The debate has intensified somewhat since the economic crisis started, accentuating the seismic shifts that have affected the pattern of global labour markets. But despite the storm of the crisis, the evidence is clear: even during tough economic times, a person with a university-level degree can expect to earn an average of 50% more than someone who has only a secondary-school diploma. And for governments, the net public return on an investment in universitylevel education, seen in higher taxes, greater social contributions and lower social transfers, is almost three times the amount of public investment.

This is not pre-crisis thinking, but based on 2009 data reviewed in the OECD’s 2011 edition of Education at a Glance. The report shows that benefits also accrue to those who pursue further vocational education and training: individuals who have earned a degree or certificate from a post-secondary, vocationally-oriented programme earn more than their counterparts who haven’t completed secondary education.

The difference in earnings may not be as large as for degree holders, but it is nonetheless consistent and real. What is clear from these findings is that investing in higher levels of education pays dividends, for both individuals and society, and that goes for those aiming for careers in molecular biology or plumbing.

OECD (2011), Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing.

OECD's work on Higher education and adult learning

©OECD Observer No 287 Q4 2011




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