Economic crisis pushing young adults in OECD countries to remain in education – report

Economic crisis pushing young adults in OECD countries to remain in education – report
The economic crisis is encouraging young people in OECD countries to stay in education for an additional 15 years, according to a new report. While some commentators regard this as a good thing, those with lower education levels are suffering badly.

Educational mobility has ground to a halt and the percentage of people with lower educational skills than their parents is rising among young adults.

“Inequalities between tertiary-educated adults and the rest of society are growing,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's “Education at a Glance” report stated.

“The number of people with lower qualifications than their parents is 9 percent among 55-64 year olds, to 12 percent among 35-44 year olds, and 16 percent among 25-34 year olds,” says the report.

The report collated data from 34 OECD countries, in addition to Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. Surveys were taken from the period between August 2011 and March 2012.

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OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría spoke of the need to remove the connection between social background and educational opportunity.

“Education can lift people out of poverty and social exclusion, but to do so we need to break the link,” he said.

He added that the biggest challenge to inclusive growth “is the risk that social mobility could grind to a halt,” and growing social disparities are posing a major challenge.

“Increasing access to education for everyone and continuing to improve people’s skills will be essential to long-term prosperity and a more cohesive society,” Gurría said.

Despite the growing inequality, the generalized economic crisis is encouraging more and younger people to stay in education, says the study.

A typical 15 year old in an OECD country may spend some seven additional years in formal education over the next 15 years of their life.

“Before turning 30, they could expect to hold a job for over five years, be unemployed for nearly one year and be neither in education nor seeking work for over one year.”

Despite the apparent expansion in opportunities for over 15s wanting to go into tertiary education, subsequent work still remains a problem.

AFP Photo / Mario Tama
“At the very same time, we have still a lot of unemployed graduates looking for a job, and at the very same time employers are saying they can’t find the people with the skills they need,” said Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director of education.

According to the report, higher levels of education and skills pay off “more than ever before – in employment and earnings, and in many social outcomes, such as health. “

However, the gap between mid- and high- educated people has grown twice as much between 2000 and 2012, the report says.

It points out that this means mid-educated adults “have moved closer in income to those with low levels of education,” and that the middle-classes “are falling further behind.”

Lost generations in S. Europe

University graduates in southern EU countries such as Spain or Italy are less educated and have more unemployment rates than those from north European countries or those outside Europe, such as Japan and the US, the report says.

Spain and Turkey have more so-called NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training).

Both Italy and Spain also were at the bottom of basic literacy and numeracy skills rankings last year as well.

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“Raising educational attainment is not only giving countries more income but it is also creating a greater degree of social cohesion,” Schleicher said. “Every business transaction [is founded] on trust. Trust in institutions is vital, trust in democracies. All of those aspects are vital for the functioning of societies.”