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UK emerging as a ‘graduate economy’, claims OECD

UK emerging as a ‘graduate economy’, claims OECD

The UK is turning into a “graduate economy”, OECD says, but skills shortage needs to be addressed

More and more people in the UK are obtaining degrees, transforming the economy – but basic skills are not rising at the same rate.

These are the findings of the latest Education at a Glance report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which shows the UK is increasingly developing into a “graduate economy”.

More people are now likely to have a degree than to have achieved only school-level qualifications, the report finds – a significant milestone on the road towards a true graduate economy.


Some 41 per cent of people of working age in the UK have a degree or equivalent, representing a sharp rise from 26 per cent in 2000.

In contrast, 37 per cent achieved their highest qualifications at GCSE or A level standard, and 22 per cent had not achieved basic school qualifications at all.

Not only does that mean that the UK has a higher proportion of graduate-level qualified adults than any other EU nation, but it places it firmly near the top of the global rankings. Just a few countries, such as South Korea and Japan with their famously demanding education systems, can surpass Britain’s graduate population.

What’s more, OECD says that this is at least partially driven by growth in female participation rates. Half of women aged 25-34 in the UK hold university-level qualifications now – a record high for the UK and more than France, Germany or the US.


However, the report also points out that in spite of all the high-level qualifications held in the UK, there is a shortage emerging when it comes to basic skills.

One in four UK graduates achieved the highest levels of literacy in tests. In Sweden, the Netherlands, Japan and Finland, that figure rose to more than a third. Even though the UK’s graduates outperformed those from France and the US, it seems there is still some catching up to do.

This is hardly news to the UK employment market. Just last month The Prince’s Trust published a report arguing that a serious skills shortage could hold back future economic growth unless governments and businesses invested in training and developing young people to meet those needs. There is plenty more work to be done to ensure the UK has the skills to keep thriving.

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