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28th Feb 2021

Poorly-educated worst off in economic crisis

  • Achieving higher education pays off (Photo: Lawrence OP)

People with good quality education have weathered the economic crisis much better than those with only basic qualifications, a new study published on Tuesday (25 June) shows.

The report by the OECD - a Paris-based think tank - says that "educational attainment has a huge impact on employability, and the crisis has strengthened this impact even further."

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Between 2008 and 2011, the unemployment rate for low-skilled people increased by almost 3.8 percentage points, while it increased by only 1.5 percentage points for their highly educated counterparts, says the study covering 34 countries, including 21 EU states.

"The economic crisis is dramatically amplifying the value of good education," said the OECD's Andreas Schleicher, presenting the report.

Schleicher noted that there was "remarkably little change" between the unemployment rates among highly qualified people in the four years, except in countries hit exceptionally hard by the crisis including, Greece, Ireland and Spain.

"People with poor qualifications are paying the price for much of the crisis,” he added.

In Estonia, there was a 17.6 percent increase in unemployment among 24-34 years olds without a secondary education. In Greece, it was 15 percent. It also went up in Ireland (21.5%) and Spain (16%).

Germany, Austria and Luxembourg bucked the trend by recording a drop in unemployment among low-skilled young people, something the report largely attributes to vocational training.

Meanwhile, the OECD expert used the report’s finding to make the case for spending public money on education.

Once people graduate from university they generally become high-earners, meaning they pay more in taxes and social contributions.

But despite the benefits of quality education, the report shows that per-student expenditure on education is going down in most EU countries.

The European Commission’s own data shows Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Romania and Slovakia are the biggest culprits, spending relatively low amounts on education and on a downward trend.

The UK and Poland top the EU countries in terms of getting people into high education, while Germany, Denmark, Slovenia, Austria, the Czech Republic are "very strong" on advanced research education, said Schleicher.

Meanwhile, teachers in EU countries earn on average 77 and 89 percent of what people of similar educational standard earn in other jobs.

“Teachers in Europe don’t have a high social recognition,” said Schleicher, questioning recent trends to spend money on making class-sizes smaller rather than on raising teacher wages.

In a boost for Europe, which has made tackling early-school leaving and increasing tertiary qualifications among its economic goals for 2020, Schleicher noted that “Europe now matches US qualification levels.”

“If you look among older people - 55 to 64 years - Europe was still 25 percentage points behind the United States in terms of people with baseline education. But Europe has raised its game now,” he said.

Europe is also doing better at attracted international students seeing its “market share” rising from 37 percent in 2008 to 40 percent in 2011. The US market share - while still the biggest - shrunk in 2011.

But such benefits and improvements may be short-lived. From a “Western perspective” Europe is doing comparatively well, but things look different once China is brought into the equation.

"By the year 2020, China will have twice the number of highly-educated kids as the US and Europe have kids," noted Schleicher.

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