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Brussels, 7 September 2010

Commission welcomes OECD report underlining high return on investment in education

The European Commission today welcomed the launch of "Education at a Glance 2010", a new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which underlines the need for governments to support world-class quality in their education systems to ensure long-term growth and to fight unemployment. 21 EU countries are covered by the report, which draws on data collected jointly with Eurostat and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The report looks at what is spent on education, how education systems operate and what results are achieved. For the Commission, the report provides evidence and data in support of its Europe 2020 education targets to reduce early school leaving and to boost university education.

Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, Androulla Vassiliou stated: "Europe cannot risk falling behind in education and training. Improving education and training systems is one of the key tasks for the future and the means to both secure Europe's economic success and its social cohesion."

Commissioner Vassiliou added: "This report reinforces the Commission's own analysis and the policy lines we are pursuing with Europe 2020. It confirms the value - I would say the necessity – of investing in education, particularly during the economic downturn. Young people with low levels of education have been hardest hit, with unemployment rates for those that had not completed upper secondary school rising by almost five percentage points in EU countries between 2008 and 2009."

For people with university or equivalent degrees, the report shows that, while they are not exempt from the effects of the downturn, the increase in unemployment levels during the same period was much less – at below two percentage points.

"In a global economy, it is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best performing education systems internationally that provide the benchmark for success," OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said. "With the worldwide recession continuing to weigh on employment levels, education is an essential investment for responding to the changes in technology and demographics that are re-shaping labour markets."

With demand for university-level courses rising, according to the report, public resources invested in university education pay off by bringing in additional tax revenues. There are also substantial private returns – an EU citizen will, over his/her working lifetime gain a substantial personal increase in earnings.

Education at a Glance 2010

Education at a Glance covers 35 OECD member and candidate countries, including 21 EU countries1. In addition, data are shown for a number of significant global partner countries, amongst them Brazil and China.

The report shows that for most indicators EU countries perform near the OECD average, but there are nevertheless significant variations between Member States in early school leaving rates and the numbers attending university.

Among other points, the 2010 edition of Education at a Glance reveals that:

  • On average, 34% of 25-34 year-olds across EU countries covered have completed tertiary education (the OECD equivalent is 35%), compared with 18% of EU 55-64 year-olds (OECD figure is 18%). The best performing EU country is Ireland, where 45% of 25-34 year olds have tertiary qualifications, but it lags behind global leaders including Korea, Canada and Japan and the Russian Federation, all with over 50%. Recognising Europe's need to match the best in global performance, the EU's Europe 2020 strategy sets a benchmark of 40% of young people with university level qualifications.

  • Unemployment rates among people with a tertiary level of education have stayed at or below 4% on average in the EU and across OECD countries during the recession. For people who failed to complete upper secondary education, by contrast, unemployment rates have repeatedly exceeded 9%.

  • As more and more people look beyond their home countries' borders for university education, both academic and commercial benefits accrue from attracting foreign students. In 2008, the latest year for which complete figures are available, over 3.3 million tertiary students were enrolled outside their country of citizenship. Of these, about 40% studied in EU countries, showing, in the words of Commissioner Vassiliou, that Europe's universities are, more and more open to the world.

On 15 September the European Commission will launch Youth on the Move, a flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 strategy to drive improvements in EU education, training and learning mobility to ensure that young Europeans gain skills to match the best in the world.

To find out more:

Further information on Education at a Glance 2010 is available at

The report is available to accredited journalists on the password-protected site.

European Commission: Progress report (November 2009) Progress towards the EU's Lisbon objectives in education and training

European Commission: Education and training

1 :

All EU member states except Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania.

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