EDTalkNZ: Glancing at OECD Statistics

 

Dave Guerin, CEO/Education Strategist for Education Directions, is today’s guest writer.

The OECD’s Education at a Glance publication kicks off a global rush each year to find the statistics that best prove your previous beliefs. Last week’s release was no exception.

In a perfect educational world, we would all have a deep understanding of our own and other educational systems. In reality, even those who are sector leaders or journalists are often too busy (or can’t be bothered) to go beyond the surface of things. So when a shiny set of comparative statistics comes out, it is far too easy to cherry-pick a few to make your case about how the world should be.

In New Zealand, the story about the OECD figures was that our public tertiary education fees were the seventh highest in the world. That does seem to be true but if you go to the relevant section of the 2011 Education at a Glance, you will find that:

  • only 23 countries were listed in the chart on p.258, so we’re 7/23;
  • the note to the chart says “This chart does not take into account grants, subsidies or loans that partially or fully offset the student’s tuition fees.”;
  • another chart on p.256 shows that New Zealand is fourth highest in the world (4/18) for the proportion of students benefitting from public loans, scholarships or grants;
  • a chart on p.269 shows that we spend the highest proportion of tertiary education spending of any of the nations listed on student loans (1/19);  and
  • text on p.257 states that NZ has one of the highest rates of access in the world.

My reading of all that is that we have high fees, but these are offset by near universal access to student loans, which are in turn subsidised greatly to reduce their real cost, meaning that access to tertiary education remains very open. In short, the real price of New Zealand tertiary education is low enough to let lots of people study.

My research might seem like a lot of trouble, but it only took 20 minutes on a rainy afternoon to write this whole piece. Of course, if you can’t be bothered with that, you could take the approach of Universities UK. In a two paragraph media release, UUK didn’t even bother citing a statistic – they just inserted the OECD’s name into their narrative about the need of higher spending.

Dave Guerin

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