Feb. 3, 2012 at 7:51 AM ET
By Charles B. Stockdale, Michael B. Sauter, 24/7 Wall St.
In the past 50 years, college graduation rates in developed countries have increased nearly 200 percent, according to Education at a Glance 2011, a recently published report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The report shows that while education has improved across the board, it has not improved evenly, with some countries enjoying much greater rates of educational attainment than others. Based on the report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 developed countries with the most educated populations.
The countries with the most highly educated citizens are also some of the wealthiest in the world. The United States, Japan and Canada are on our list and also have among the largest GDPs. Norway and Australia, also featured, have the second and sixth-highest GDPs per capita, respectively. All these countries aggressively invest in education.
The countries that invest the most in education have the most-educated people. All of the best-educated countries, except for the UK, fall within the top 15 OECD countries for greatest spending on tertiary -- that is, college or college-equivalent -- spending as a percentage of GDP. The U.S. spends the second most and Canada spends the fourth most.
Interestingly, public expenditure on educational institutions relative to private spending by these countries is small compared with other countries in the OECD. While the majority of education is still funded with public money, eight of the countries on our list rely the least on public funding as a percentage of total education spending.
The countries included here have had educated populations for a long time. While they have steadily increased the percentages of their populations with postsecondary educations, the increases are modest compared to developing countries. The U.S., Canada and Japan have had tertiary educational attainment above 30 percent since at least 1997. Poland, a recently developed country that is not on our list, had a tertiary educational rate of 10 percent in 1997. As of 2009, that rate had grown to 21 percent.
In Canada, 50 percent of the adult population has completed tertiary education, easily the highest rate in the OECD. Each year, public and private expenditure on education amount to 2.5 percent of GDP, the fourth-highest rate in the world. Tertiary education spending accounts for 41 percent of total education spending in the country. In the U.S., the proportion is closer to 37 percent. In Israel, the rate is 22 percent. In Canada, nearly 25 percent of students have an immigrant background.
Although there is no data on the percentage of Israeli citizens with postsecondary education dating back to 1999, the numbers going back to 2002 show that growth is slowing dramatically compared to other countries. In fact, in 2006, 46 percent of adults ages 25 to 64 had a tertiary education. In 2007 this number fell to 44 percent. Only 78 percent of funds spent on educational institutions in Israel are public funds. The country is also only one of three -- the other two being Ireland and Sweden -- where expenditure on educational institutions as a proportion of GDP decreased from 2000 to 2008. Israel also had the largest increase in overall population, approximately 19 percent from 2000 to 2009.
In Japan, 44 percent of the adult population has some form of tertiary education. The U.S., by comparison, has a rate of 41 percent. Japan’s population increased just 0.46 percent between 2000 and 2009, the sixth-slowest growth rate in the OECD, and the slowest among our list of 10. Japan is tied with Finland for the third-highest upper-secondary graduation rate in the world, at 95 percent. It has the third-highest tertiary graduation rate in the world, but only spends the equivalent of 1.5 percent of GDP on tertiary education -- the 17th lowest rate in the OECD.
4. United States
The U.S. experienced a fairly large growth in population from 2000 to 2009. During the period, the population increased 8.68 percent -- the 12th highest among OECD countries. Meanwhile, the rate at which the share of the population with a tertiary education is growing has slowed to an annual rate of 1.4 percent -- the lowest among the 34 OECD countries. Just 71 percent of funding for educational institutions in the country comes from public funds, placing the U.S. sixth-lowest in this measure. Among OECD countries, the largest share of adults with a tertiary education live in the United States -- 25.8 percent.
5. New Zealand
New Zealand is not a particularly wealthy country. GDP per capita is less than $30,000, and is the 14th lowest in the OECD. However, 40 percent of the population engages in tertiary education, the fifth-highest rate in the world. The country actually has a rapidly growing population, increasing 11.88 percent between 2000 and 2009. This was the eighth-largest increase in the OECD. Part of the reason for the high rate of tertiary graduates is the high output from secondary schools. More than 90 percent of residents graduate from secondary school.