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More about Europe: OECD data on retention and graduation rates

April 5, 2014

This post discussed how student support regimes vary around Europe, with the caveat that comparing the content of student finance systems provided no information about how those systems compare in terms of widening access, retention, their cost and other important things.

The OECD’s Education at a Glance provides data on completion and graduation rates. These figures will reflect the period when fees were around £3000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and pre-date the rise to £9000 in England (and for non-domestic rUK students in the devolved administrations). [Update: this post is based on the figures in the 2013 edition of Education at a Glance: the 2014 version is now out here.]

Chart A4.1 shows that for students who enter a first degree programme, the OECD average for completion is just below 70%. On this measure, Finland, Spain and Denmark stand at 75-80%.  The UK and the Netherlands are at just over 70%, while  Norway is at 60% and Sweden 55%.  Confusingly, the identically-titled Chart A4.2 gives a slightly different result, in which the UK does relatively better (more like Denmark than the Netherlands).  But in both cases, there is a clear pattern that Norway and Sweden have relatively low completion rates within the OECD.  As the report notes, “there is no clear relationship between the amount of tuition fees charged by tertiary type A educational institutions and completion rates”.

Chart A.3.2 in the same report deals with the percentage of young people who are expected to graduate for the first time from tertiary-type A programmes during their lifetimes.  Iceland and Poland show the highest figures here (over 60%), with the UK third at 55%.  Denmark is at 50%, with Finland, Sweden, Norway, Ireland and the Netherlands all between 40% and 45%.  Below the OECD average are Austria, Italy, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, at between 30% and 35%.   Once sub-degree qualifications are added, the UK has the highest figures in Europe (70%).

Box A4.1 helpfully brings together data on the interaction between entry rates, graduation rates and completion rates, which brings out that, while  entry rates are higher in all the Nordic countries, the UK’s  better record of converting entrants into graduates means it overtakes them all on graduation rates in the population.  The UK indeed is unique in the OECD in combining a close match between entry and graduation rates with a relatively high overall graduation rate.

For the countries discussed on the previous post, a picture begins to emerge from the OECD data of Denmark and the UK both generally pretty strong performers for completion and graduation rates,  and Norway and Sweden well below the OECD average, with others showing a more mixed picture.

These are complex figures, capturing effects which are in turn influenced by all sorts of factors.  As ever, caution is advisable in drawing easy  conclusions. In the context of the debate in Scotland, their main value is to reinforce the complexity of comparing different systems and to demonstrate the limitations of comparisons based on one single parameter.

There’s lots more interesting material in the OECD report, including figures on student support and general spending.  More on that to follow.



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