According to a top official of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, third-tier institutions need to move away from heavy three- and four-year degrees to prepare students for the changing world.
On Monday, the OECD launched its flagship education report, titled “Education at a Glance”, showing that the share of young adults with advanced tertiary qualifications in the OECD reached a record 48 percent of 25-34 year olds in 2021, compared to just 27 percent in 2000.
Andreas Schleicher, the OECD Director of Education and Skills, stressed that vocational training should be “not the last resort but the first choice”.
Mr. Schleicher said youth deserve better advice about the job market and their future prospects.
“That is the future and only a small part. We have a large number of young people who choose degrees that may not actually exist when they graduate.”
The report showed that the number was highest in South Korea at 69.3 percent, followed by Canada at 66.4 percent.
This increase was particularly notable among women, who now make up 57 percent of all educated third tiers aged 25 to 34.
The data also showed that those with third-level degrees were more likely to have jobs that earned more than those who were more likely to be comfortable adapting to new technologies.
But not all students get the best service from such degrees and more efforts need to be made to expand vocational education and training.
“There needs to be a focus on making university degrees as relevant as possible in the context of the needs of the economy and society,” said Mathias Korman, Secretary General of the OECD.
“We need to improve the quality of advice and guidance on which path to follow.”
Mr Corman said the switch from vocational training and third-level degrees should be made easier to “further improve the relevance of both education systems”.
The report analyzed the education systems of 38 OECD member countries as well as Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
This year’s edition also covers the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; public and private spending on education; Earning benefits of education; Admission and graduation from the third level of education; Statutory and actual salaries of school heads; and teacher pay and instruction time.
Covid-19 wreaked havoc with education around the world in 2020, with more than 1.5 billion students in 188 countries and economies essentially closing their schools.
While most are now back in orbit, the report said the sector still grapples with “persistent challenges” from the pandemic.
“It is crucial for countries to have clear strategies for recovery in education to address the impact of the pandemic on young people’s learning, development and mental health.”
Teacher and student absences, whether due to Covid-19 infections or to quarantine periods, “continued to disrupt the learning process”. However, many countries struggled to monitor absences systematically and only 11 OECD countries and other participants were able to provide comparable figures on teacher absences. Of those, eight noted an increase in teacher absences in at least one educational level compared to previous years.
Benefits of third level education
The report found that full-time workers with a third level qualification earned almost 50 percent more than workers with a higher secondary qualification and almost twice as much as workers without.
Better educated adults may also find it easier to adopt new technologies that improve their quality of life. For example, 71 percent of people aged 55-74 used online or video calls during the pandemic, which allowed them to stay in touch with family and friends and avoid social isolation, the report said.
Despite the benefits of obtaining a third-level degree, many students do not complete their program of study. Only 39 percent of graduate students graduate within the expected time frame for their program. The completion rate among men is particularly low in all OECD countries. Men are, on average, 11 percent less likely to complete their program within the stipulated time than women.