EDUCATION AND TRAINING: HOW DOES AUSTRALIA COMPARE INTERNATIONALLY?
This article was contributed by Brendan O’Reilly, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.
Traditionally, the key statistics used to evaluate Australia’s education system have come from the institutional collections of our main education sectors and from the survey data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. By their very nature these collections can only provide a domestic context in which to evaluate educational progress. The development over recent decades of international collections has filled this gap, and international educational statistics and indicators 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 most relevant international education statistics publications to Australia are those of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The most high profile publication is the OECD’s Education At A Glance, EAG for short, a volume of statistical/accounting indicators which has been published annually since 1992. The most significant UNESCO publication has been its Statistical Yearbook, produced annually from 1963 to 1999 and containing international data in the fields of education, science and technology, culture and communication.
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 to 3A, while Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses are classified across ISCED levels 2, 3, 4, and 5 (Diplomas are 5B while Certificates are classified at the lower levels, generally with either B or C orientations). Nearly all Australian university degree and post-graduate programs are classified as ISCED 5A. The exception is research doctorates, which are 6A.
Comparing Australia and other OECD countries
EAG educational indicator data are generally released two to three years in arrears, and indicator results usually show only minor changes from year to year. The publication currently presents data for 30 OECD countries, as well as for developing countries participating in the World Education Indicators program. Because of imperfections in translating domestic data to international classifications and definitions, undue significance should not be attributed to minor differences in country results.
Australia performs relatively well on most EAG measures. Features of our performance include very high rates of part-time study, generally above average participation and attainment in tertiary education, and a relatively higher private contribution to educational expenditure than in most OECD countries. The most notable international trend evident from EAG results over the past decade has been strong growth in tertiary participation, with 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.
Expenditure on education
According to EAG 2001, Australian expenditure on educational institutions was slightly below the OECD average in 1998: 5.46% of GDP compared with an OECD country mean of 5.66%. This mainly reflects Australia’s low spending on preschools (0.1% of GDP compared to an OECD country mean of 0.4%). Australia’s spending on tertiary educational institutions was above the average (1.59% of GDP compared with an OECD country mean of 1.33%) while spending on primary, secondary and post secondary non-tertiary educational institutions was marginally above the average (3.8% of GDP compared with an OECD country mean of 3.71% and OECD total of 3.64%) (see table 10.30). Expenditure per full-time equivalent student in Australia was above the OECD average for all non-preschool sectors. The OECD, however, cautions that lower unit expenditure should not be equated with lower school performance, with countries such as Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Netherlands, which have comparatively modest expenditure per student, having some of the highest performance by 8th grade students in mathematics.
10.30 DIRECT AND INDIRECT EXPENDITURE ON EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS FROM PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SOURCES, GDP by Level of Education and Source of Funds, OECD Countries - 1998
The private sector is more important as a source of funds for educational institutions in Australia than for most OECD countries. Some 24.5% of funding for Australian educational institutions comes from private sources, compared to the OECD country mean of 13.4%. In Japan and the US, more than half of all final funds for tertiary institutions originate from private source, and in the Republic of Korea the proportion exceeds 80%.
Educational attainment and participation
Table 10.31 shows that in Australia the proportion of the 25 to 64 year population who are university educated is slightly above the OECD average, and that the proportion of this age group who have not completed secondary education is also slightly higher than the OECD average. Some 43% of Australians in this age group had attained below the Upper Secondary level in 1999 and 18% had attained University level, compared with OECD country means of 38% and 14% respectively. Only 35% of Australians aged 25-34 years had attained below the Upper Secondary level and 20% had attained the University level, indicating higher educational attainment for younger cohorts. Reflecting increasing participation in education over recent decades, the EAG 2001 figures for Australia showed an improvement of about one percentage point over those in EAG 2000.
Primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education
Source: 'Education at a Glance 2001' (OECD), table B2.1b.
10.31 POPULATION AGED 25 TO 64 YEARS, Distribution by Educational Attainment, OECD Countries - 1999
In OECD countries there are differing ages of compulsory attendance (the ending age varies from 14 to 18 years) and sharp differences in the incidence of part-time study. Australia, for example, experiences very high rates of part-time study relative to other countries. This contributes to Australia having the second highest measured 'school expectancy' (the number of full-time and part-time years a five year old child can expect to spend in education over a lifetime) in the OECD. School expectancy (full-time and part-time combined) is 19.9 years for Australia as against an OECD country mean of 16.7 years. Many OECD countries do not differentiate between full-time and part-time study, which makes it impossible to make comparisons based on full-time equivalents. 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).
Australia’s graduation rate for Upper Secondary (General) education is significantly above the OECD country mean (66% of the population of typical graduation age compared with 57%), though figures are missing for a number of countries with high attendance rates (e.g. US, Canada). Australian graduation data are not available for Vocational programs, but are likely to be below average at Upper Secondary level. Australia has relatively high rates of participation in tertiary education (ISCEDs 5 and 6) and has the highest proportion of part-time students in the OECD, especially for vocational programs (table 10.32).
Below upper secondary
At least upper secondary
|OECD Country Mean|
|Note: x denotes data included in another column of the table.|
Source: 'Education at a Glance 2001' (OECD), tables A2.2a and A2.2b.
The learning environment and returns to education
EAG contains data on teaching salaries, age and gender distribution of teachers and education staff, teachers’ hours, instruction time of students, student to teaching staff ratios, information and communication technology, and use of computers in schools. In OECD countries primary teacher salaries tend to be less than those of other public sector professionals, and a public primary or secondary school teacher also takes an average of 25 years to progress from minimum to maximum salary in the OECD. Salaries for Australian teachers are generally above the OECD country mean in Purchasing Power Parity terms; also, in Australia, Denmark, England and New Zealand public school teachers reach the maximum salary after less than ten years’ service.
A substantial body of empirical research shows a strong positive correlation between earnings and educational attainment, and this is evident across all countries. Table 10.33 shows earnings relativities within each country using the earnings of those with upper secondary attainment as a benchmark. The wage differentials imply a higher rate of return for university compared with non-university tertiary education, and the data also show wage differentials to be generally narrower in Australia.
10.32 ACCESS TO AND PARTICIPATION IN TERTIARY EDUCATION, Selected Data, Selected Countries - 1999
Expected years of education
% part-time students
Source: 'Education at a Glance 2001' (OECD), tables C3.2, C3.3.
Table 10.34 shows that OECD countries, including Australia, witnessed an increase in mean performance in Science and to a lesser extent Mathematics between 1995 and 1999. According to the OECD, in only two cases - Canada and Hungary - is this increase statistically significant, but the increase in Australia's scale score ranks just below these two. In Mathematics, where the picture is more varied, eight of the thirteen OECD countries showed increases in performance levels. Australia was one, but again the increase was not statistically significant. In absolute terms the high achievement of Japan and the Republic of Korea and the poor performance of the United States and New Zealand are notable, while Australia is among the middle ranking countries.
10.33 RELATIVE EARNINGS(a) OF PERSONS AGED 25-64 YEARS, By Level of Education, Selected Countries - 1999
Below Upper Secondary
(Tertiary Type B)
(Tertiary Type A)
|(a) Based on 'upper secondary education' earnings as 100%. |
|Source: 'Education at a Glance 2001' (OECD), table E5.1.|
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Centre for Educational Research and Innovation 2001, Education At A Glance: OECD Indicators, OECD, Paris.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Statistical Yearbook, UNESCO, Paris, various issues.
10.34 TRENDS IN MEAN ACHIEVEMENT SCORES(a), Mathematics and Science, 8th Grade, OECD Countries - 1995 and 1999
1995 and 1999
1995 and 1999
|(a) Denotes the comparison between the mathematics and science achievement of 8th-grade students in 1999 (in TIMSS-R) with that of 8th-grade students in 1995 (in TIMSS). |
(b) Flemish community
Source: 'Education at a Glance 2001' (OECD), table F1.1.