4 Oct 2022

How NZ education compares to other OECD countries

8:12 am on 4 October 2022
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The number of New Zealanders with tertiary qualifications has grown, but not as much as in most other OECD nations. File photo Photo:

The OECD's annual report on education warns too many young people in developed countries may be enrolling in degrees.

The Education At A Glance 2022 report also said the number of young New Zealanders with tertiary qualifications had grown in the past 10 years, but not as much as in most other OECD nations.

The report said the share of young adults aged 25-34 with higher qualifications increased sharply in OECD nations between 2000 and 2021.

In New Zealand the percentage of 25 to 34-year-olds with tertiary qualifications rose 16 percentage points from 29 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2021.

Across the OECD the number of young adults with tertiary qualifications grew 21 percentage points on average and in some countries including the UK and Australia more than 50 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds had a tertiary qualification in 2021.

"This is due to the growing need for advanced skills in labour markets and has profound implications for our societies and the future of education," the report said.

But it warned that too many young people might be enrolling in degrees.

"Not all students are best served by a tertiary degree. The general increase in tertiary attainment may have led employers to expect a tertiary degree as the new normal, pushing students who would benefit more from vocational education and training (VET) into academic tertiary education instead. To avoid this, vocational upper secondary programmes that can compete with tertiary education in terms of quality and labour-market outcomes are important, but they remain rare," the report said.

It said the percentage of young adults with tertiary qualifications ranged from 48 percent in Wellington to 20 percent in Southland.

The report showed New Zealand had one of the largest differences in tertiary fees charged for domestic and foreign students at about US$15,000 (NZ$26,500) adjusted for purchasing power.

In Australia and Canada the difference between domestic and international fees was closer to US$10,000 (NZ$17,680) adjusted for purchasing power, and in countries including Japan, Spain and Korea students paid the same fees.

Pandemic in the classroom

The report said the pandemic strongly disrupted secondary school exams around the world and forced school closures in many countries.

It said nearly all 27 countries that provided data closed their schools in 2020 due to the pandemic and most also closed them in 2021.

Chile closed classrooms for more than 250 days across the two years, the United Kingdom for nearly 100 days, and Sweden did not close its schools at all. In New Zealand, which was not included in that particular set of OECD data, lockdowns closed schools nationally for 44 days and in Auckland for 82 days over the two years.

The report said most countries introduced health requirements for schools such as promoting frequent hand-washing and the use of hand sanitiser.

"Masks were required for all teachers and students from primary to tertiary in three-quarters of countries," the report said.

"More than one in three countries implemented Covid-19 tests for students and teachers in schools from primary to upper secondary. Vaccination requirements were a little less common, and were required for teachers in approximately one-quarter of the countries (at all levels of education), and for students in 10 percent of countries at most, depending on the level of education."

The pandemic strongly disrupted national secondary school exams, the report said.

"In 18 out of 29 countries with data available, exams were postponed and rescheduled in 2019/20, while other countries and participants cancelled examinations in favour of alternative approaches, such as teacher-assessed grades, for high-stakes decision making."

Some countries made similar changes to exams in 2020/21, the report said.

Dollar for dollar

New Zealand spent 5.1 percent of its GDP on school and tertiary education in 2019, slightly higher than the OECD average of 4.9 percent but down from 6.2 percent in 2008 because spending had not increased as fast as the economy, the report said.

New Zealand's spending on school education was among the lowest in the OECD at US$7578 (NZ$13,400) per primary student and US$9336 (NZ$16,500) per secondary student. The OECD averages were US$9923 (NZ$17,550) for primary and US$11,400 (NZ$20,160) at secondary level.

Private spending on education was higher than OECD averages at 13 percent for school education and 46 percent in tertiary education.

Teachers' salaries in New Zealand were close to OECD averages adjusted for purchasing power at US$48,878 (NZ$86,430) for primary teachers and US$53,335 (NZ$94,310) for secondary.

However, New Zealand teachers earned 7.8 percent less than other New Zealand workers with similar qualifications while principals earned more.

Just over 11 percent of total New Zealand government spending went to school and tertiary education in 2019, slightly higher than the OECD average of 10.6 percent. However, increases in education spending had not kept up with the rate of increase in total government spending between 2015 and 2019.

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