Australian Bureau of Statistics

Rate the ABS website
ABS Home > Statistics > By Release Date
ABS @ Facebook ABS @ Twitter ABS RSS ABS Email notification service
4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2002  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 09/05/2002   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product  
Contents >> Education >> Educational Attainment: Education and training: international comparisons

Educational Attainment: Education and training: international comparisons

In 1999, 18% of 25-64 year olds in Australia had attained a university level qualification, compared with the OECD country mean of 14%.

Education contributes to economic growth, facilitates socioeconomic mobility, and improves social and individual wellbeing. For these reasons, it is important to know how Australia’s education system is performing, and international comparisons are very useful in placing our performance in context and also allow us to learn from the experience of other countries.


Evaluating educational systems
The development over recent decades of international education statistical collections has allowed the evaluation of Australia's educational system to extend beyond domestic comparisons. These statistics are now becoming widely used, both as a reference source for comparable country statistics and as benchmarks to assess the relative performance of national education systems. The main source of statistics for this article is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publication Education at a Glance published annually since 1992.

The publication currently presents data on educational indicators for 30 OECD countries, as well as for developing countries participating in the World Education Indicators program.

An OECD country mean is calculated as the average of all OECD countries for a given measure (e.g. educational attainment) for which data are available or can be estimated.


Comparing Australia and other OECD countries
Using OECD indicators of education and training to compare performance across countries, Australia has generally above average levels of educational participation and attainment in tertiary education. Of all OECD countries, Australia has the second highest expected years of schooling overall (unweighted for all levels of education), with comparatively fewer years on average spent in full-time study, but a higher number of years on average spent studying part-time. Australian expenditure on educational institutions is above the OECD average, and is characterised by below average public expenditure and above average private expenditure. Preschool education is the main area of below average overall spending.

The most notable international trend evident over the past decade has been strong growth in tertiary participation, supported by completion of upper secondary education having become the norm in most countries. In many cases spending at tertiary level has not kept pace with the growth in enrolments.

PROPORTION OF POPULATION AGED 25-64 YEARS, EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT - 1999

Below upper secondary
Upper secondary or above(a)
Any tertiary
University level
Selected OECD countries
%
%
%
%

Australia
43
57
27
18
Canada
21
79
39
19
Germany
19
81
23
13
Ireland(b)
49
51
21
11
New Zealand
26
74
27
13
Spain
65
35
21
15
Turkey
78
22
7
(c)
United Kingdom
38
62
25
17
United States of America
13
87
35
27
OECD country mean(d)
38
62
22
14

(a) Excluding ISCED 3C Short programmes.
(b) 1998 data.
(c) Denotes data included in another column of the table.
(d) Includes OECD countries not included above.

Source: OECD, Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators, 2001.


Educational attainment and participation
In 1999, the proportion of Australians aged 25-64 years who were university educated was slightly above the OECD country mean (18% compared with 14%). Among younger Australians (those aged 25-34 years) this proportion was higher (20% compared with an OECD country mean of 16%). However, 43% of Australians aged 25-64 years had an educational attainment level that was below the upper secondary level, compared with an OECD country mean of 38%. Among those aged 25-34 years, 35% of Australians had an attainment level below upper secondary, again higher than the OECD average (28%).


International education statistics
International education statistics are classified according to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), which provides a means of presenting data from different national systems in a consistent format.

The ISCED level structure comprises seven levels:
  • pre-primary (0);
  • primary (1);
  • lower secondary (2);
  • upper secondary (3);
  • post-secondary non-tertiary (4);
  • tertiary (5); and
  • advanced research (6).
  • Secondary and tertiary levels are further sub-classified by orientation:
  • academic (A);
  • vocational leading to further courses (B); and
  • vocational leading directly to the workforce (C).

The structure of the Australian school sector closely matches ISCED levels 0-3A, while Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses are classified across ISCED levels 2, 3, 4, and 5 (Certificates are classified at the lower levels, generally with either B or C orientations, while Diplomas are 5B). Nearly all Australian university degree and post-graduate programs are classified as ISCED 5A. The exception is research doctorates, which are 6A.


There are a range of indicators that are used to make international comparisons of participation in education. 'School expectancy' (the total number of full-time and part-time years a 5 year old child can expect to spend in formal education over a lifetime) is one such measure. In 1999, Australia had the second highest school expectancy (19.9 years) of all OECD countries, after Sweden. The OECD country mean was lower, at 16.7 years. Many OECD countries do not have a clear concept of what constitutes a full time student load in their country, which makes it impossible to make comparisons based on a full-time equivalent aggregation. The OECD does, however, provide a full-time/part-time breakdown for most countries. Australia has slightly below average full-time school expectancy (14.3 years compared with 15.4 years for the OECD country mean) but by far the highest part-time school expectancy (5.6 years compared with 1.2 years - see Australian Social Trends 2001, Combining study and work).

PARTICIPATION IN EDUCATION - 1999

School expectancy(a)
Part-time students as a proportion of all students


Full-time
Part-time
In vocational courses
In academic courses
Selected OECD countries
years
years
%
%

Australia
14.3
5.6
68.9
37.2
Canada
15.3
1.2
14.6
31.4
France
16.5
-
n.a.
n.a.
Germany
17.1
0.1
15.1
n.a.
Mexico
12.4
-
n.a.
n.a.
New Zealand
15.2
2.0
55.4
29.3
Spain
16.8
0.6
0.6
8.2
Sweden
16.7
3.6
10.9
46.0
United Kingdom
14.7
4.2
68.7
24.2
United States of America
15.3
1.9
57.1
41.2
OECD country mean(b)
15.4
1.2
19.9
14.9

(a) Refers to the number of years a 5 year old child can expect to spend in formal education over a lifetime.
(b) Includes OECD countries not included above.

Source: OECD, Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators, 2001.


Learning outcomes
The OECD’s 2000 Programme for International Student Assessment, which measured the reading, mathematical and scientific literacy of 15 year olds, confirmed the findings of earlier studies that Australian secondary students perform relatively well in standardised international assessments. Only Finland achieved substantially higher in reading literacy, only Japan in mathematical literacy and only Japan and the Republic of Korea in scientific literacy. Australia’s performance was generally comparable with that of New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom; all were over the OECD average. Despite our comparatively good results internationally, there was some variation in achievement for Australian students with different characteristics and backgrounds (see Australian Social Trends 2002, Literacy and numeracy among school students).

PERFORMANCE IN THE PROGRAMME FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ASSESSMENT - 2000

Source: Lokan, J., Greenwood, L. and Cresswell, J., How Literate are Australia's Students? 2001.


For all OECD countries, average earnings and educational attainment are linked, such that the higher the educational attainment, the higher the average earnings. By using the average earnings of 25-64 year olds who had only completed the upper secondary level as a benchmark of 100%, it is possible to compare between countries the relative earnings of people who have different levels of educational attainment. In the late 1990s, people aged 25-64 years across the OECD who had completed university had the highest average earnings, relative to other levels of educational attainment. Conversely, in all OECD countries average earnings were lowest for those who had below upper secondary level attainment.

Differences in the average earnings of people with different levels of educational attainment tend to be smaller in Australia than in other OECD countries. For example, the difference between the earnings of those 15-64 year olds in Australia who had not completed the upper secondary level and those who had completed the university level was 57 percentage points, while the comparable figure for the United States of America was 113 percentage points.

RATIO OF AVERAGE EARNINGS(a) FOR SELECTED LEVELS OF EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT(b) - 1999

(a) Ratio of selected average earnings to upper secondary average earnings, based on upper secondary earnings as 100%.
(b) For persons aged 25-64 years.
(c) 1997 data.

Source: OECD, Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators, 2001.


Expenditure on education
In 1998, Australian expenditure on educational institutions was 5.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), slightly below the mean for all of the OECD (5.7%). This mainly reflects Australia’s comparatively low spending on preschools (0.1% of GDP compared with an OECD country mean of 0.4%). Conversely, Australia’s spending on tertiary educational institutions was above the average (1.6% of GDP compared with an OECD country mean of 1.3%), while spending on primary, secondary and post secondary non-tertiary educational institutions was slightly above the average (3.8% compared with a country mean of 3.7%).

Expenditure per full-time equivalent student in Australia was above the OECD country mean for all sectors except preschool. The OECD cautions that lower unit expenditure should not be equated with lower school performance. For example, countries such as Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Netherlands, which have comparatively modest expenditure per student, have some of the highest performance by 8th grade students in mathematics.

The private sector provides relatively more funds for educational institutions in Australia than in most OECD countries. In 1998, 25% of funding for Australian educational institutions came from private sources, compared with the OECD country mean of 13%. In Japan and the United States of America, more than half of all final funds for tertiary institutions originate from private sources, and in the Republic of Korea the proportion exceeds 80%.

In terms of human resources, primary teacher salaries in OECD countries in 1996 tended to be less than those of other public sector professionals. For Australian teachers, salaries in 1999 were generally above the OECD country mean when adjustments are made for the price levels in the different countries (using Purchasing Power Parity). In addition, a public primary or secondary school teacher took an average of 25 years to progress from minimum to maximum salary in the OECD in 1999. However, in Australia, Denmark, England and New Zealand, public school teachers on average reached the maximum salary after less than 10 years service.

EXPENDITURE ON EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS AS A PROPORTION OF GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT - 1998

Primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education
Tertiary education


Public
Private
Total
Public
Private
Total
Selected OECD countries
%
%
%
%
%
%

Australia
3.2
0.6
3.8
1.1
0.5
1.6
Canada
3.7
0.3
4.1
1.5
0.3
1.9
Germany
2.8
0.9
3.7
1.0
0.1
1.0
Ireland
3.2
0.1
3.3
1.1
0.3
1.4
Mexico
3.0
0.5
3.5
0.8
0.1
0.9
New Zealand
4.6
n.a.
n.a.
1.1
n.a.
n.a.
Spain
3.3
0.4
3.7
0.8
0.3
1.1
Sweden
4.5
-
4.5
1.5
0.2
1.7
United Kingdom
3.4
n.a.
n.a.
0.8
0.3
1.1
United States of America
3.4
0.4
3.7
1.1
1.2
2.3
OECD country mean(a)
3.5
0.4
3.7
1.1
0.3
1.3

(a) Includes OECD countries not included above.

Source: OECD, Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators, 2001.


Previous PageNext Page

Bookmark and Share. Opens in a new window


Commonwealth of Australia 2014

Unless otherwise noted, content on this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia Licence together with any terms, conditions and exclusions as set out in the website Copyright notice. For permission to do anything beyond the scope of this licence and copyright terms contact us.