New OECD report provides global picture of equity in higher education

17/09/2018 | News

By the World Access to Higher Education team

Last week saw the release of the latest edition of the OECD’s Education at a Glance report. Recognising the importance of equity, not only as a fundamental value but as an economic and social benefit, the OECD has chosen to make equity in education the primary focus of this year’s report. The report provides a revealing insight into the state of equitable access to higher education on a global level, covering not only progression into higher education but also progression from higher education into employment.

Entry and attainment in higher education

The report considers a number of equity dimensions, including gender, parental education attainment and immigrant status.

The report highlights the continuing gender gap regarding entry and attainment in higher education. Women are more likely to enter higher education, representing 54% of first-time entrants to higher education. They are also more likely to graduate, representing 57% of first-time graduates. While women have previously been underrepresented at doctoral level, there is some good news in that the proportion of female entrants to doctoral programmes has now almost reached half.

Parental education level also influences entry and attainment outcomes in higher education. Young adults with parents that have not participated in higher education make up only 47% of entrants into higher education despite representing 65% of this population in countries with available data. They also only make up 44% of first-time graduates despite representing 61% of the overall population in countries with available data on this.

Immigrants are underrepresented among new entrants to higher education first- and second-generation immigrants make up 21% of new entrants despite representing 27% of the population. They are even more underrepresented among first-time graduates, making up 14% of these despite representing 23% of the population in countries with available data on this.

Progression into the labour market

Equitable higher education is not just about starting a higher education course it also covers the completion of that course and progression into further study or work. In the case of gender, while women are more likely to graduate from higher education than men, their fortunes are reversed when it comes to the labour market. Female graduates are less likely to be in employment, with an average employment rate of 80% across the OECD countries, compared to 89% for males. They are also paid 26% less than male graduates on average.

Immigrant graduates also experience worse outcomes in the labour market, with an average employment rate of 76% across the OECD countries, compared to 86% for native-born graduates. Due to the difficulties that they face in finding work such as recognition of credentials and discrimination, immigrant graduates also earn less than native-born graduates on average in most OECD countries as they are forced to be less discerning in accepting jobs.

The way forward

While there is still a long way to go in ensuring equitable access to higher education across the world, there is an increasing among of work being done to ensure that access to higher education is fair. UNESCO have made equal access to education, including higher education, one of its Global Goals for 2030. And now World Access to Higher Education Day is working to act as a platform to ensure this goal is met, building a global access network that will strengthen national efforts to make access to higher education more equitable.

You can help make a difference by getting involved with World Access to Higher Education Day on 28th November 2018. You could attend our UK or Australian conferences, host an event that supports access and success on or around the day or share student case studies as part of our Student Voices campaign. Your educational organisation could also help make a difference to our campaign by becoming a supporter. Registering is quick, easy, and has no cost all we need from you is permission to add your institution’s logo to our list. To register, all you need to do is fill in the quick two-minute form on our Become a Supporter page.

Ensuring equitable access to higher education on a global level is a substantial challenge, but one that we stand a chance of achieving if we work together.


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