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Higher education needs to step up efforts to prepare students for the future

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Demand for tertiary education continues to rise, but its further expansion will only be sustainable if it matches the supply of graduates with labour market and social needs and gives them the skills required to navigate the future, according to a new OECD report.

Education at a Glance 2019, which is part of the Organisation’s “I am the Future of Work” campaign, finds that 44% of 25-34 year-olds held a tertiary degree in 2018, compared to 35% in 2008, on average across OECD countries. The employment rate of tertiary-educated adults is 9 percentage points higher than for those with upper secondary education and they earn 57% more.

However, some sectors in high demand may struggle to find the skills they need. Less than 15% of new entrants to bachelor’s programmes study engineering, manufacturing and construction and less than 5% study information and communication technologies, despite these sectors having among the highest employment rates and earnings. Women are particularly under-represented, making up fewer than one in four entrants, on average, across OECD countries.

“It is more important than ever that young people learn the knowledge and skills needed to navigate our unpredictable and changing world,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Paris. “We must expand opportunities and build stronger bridges with future skills needs so that every student can find their place in society and achieve their full potential.”

Many institutions are evolving to meet changing job market demands by promoting flexible pathways into tertiary education, balancing academic and vocational skills, and working more closely with employers, industry and training organisations. But they must also balance larger enrolments with the need to contain costs, while maintaining the relevance and quality of their courses, says the report.

Between 2005 and 2016, spending on tertiary institutions increased at more than double the rate of student enrolments to about USD 15 600 per student on average across OECD countries. Private sources have been called on to contribute more as countries introduce or raise tuition fees.

This year’s edition of Education at a Glance also assesses how youth are moving from education into work, as part of its ongoing analysis of where OECD and partner countries stand on their way to meeting the Sustainable Development Goal for education by 2030. It finds that some countries have made significant progress in reducing the numbers of out-of-school youth in the past decade. Rates fell by 20 percentage points in the Russian Federation, 18 percentage points in Mexico, 16 percentage points in Portugal and 10 percentage points in Australia and New Zealand between 2005 and 2017.

The report finds that, on average across OECD countries, about one in six 15-24 year-olds are enrolled in vocational programmes. The attainment gap among young tertiary-educated adults and those with upper secondary has narrowed. In 2018, the share of young adults with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary qualification, 41%, is almost equal to the share attaining tertiary education, 44%.

Education at a Glance provides comparable national statistics measuring the state of education worldwide. The report analyses the education systems of the OECD’s 36 member countries, as well as of Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Other key findings

Educational attainment and outcomes

The proportion of tertiary-educated 25-34 year-olds increased by 9 percentage points, on average, across OECD countries between 2008 and 2018, while the share of adults with less than upper secondary education fell from 19% to 15%. (Indicator A1)

The gender gap in earnings persists across all levels of educational attainment and the gap is wider among tertiary-educated adults. Women earn less than men, even with a tertiary degree in the same broad field of study. (A1)

On average across OECD countries, 14.3% of 18-24 year-olds are neither employed nor in education or training (NEET). In Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Italy, South Africa and Turkey, over 25% of 18-24 year-olds are NEET. (A2)

Access to education

On average across OECD countries, around 70% of 17-18 year-olds are enrolled in upper secondary education and more than 40% of 19-20 year-olds are enrolled in tertiary programmes in almost half of OECD countries. (B1)

In almost all OECD countries, the enrolment rate among 4-5 year-olds in education exceeded 90% in 2017, with about one-third of countries achieving full enrolment for 3‑year‑olds. (B1)

Current estimates indicate that, on average, 86% of people across OECD countries will graduate from upper secondary education in their lifetime, and 81% of people will do so before the age of 25. (B3)

Education spending

Across the OECD, countries spend, on average, USD 10 500 per student on primary to tertiary educational institutions. Average spending is 1.7 times more per student at the tertiary level than other levels. (C1)

Expenditure continues to increase at a higher rate than student enrolments at all levels, particularly tertiary since 2010. Average spending per student at non-tertiary levels increased by 5% between 2010-2016 while the number of students remained unchanged. At the tertiary level, spending increased by 9% while the number of students rose by 3%. (C1)

Total public expenditure in 2016 on primary to tertiary education as a percentage of total government expenditure for all services averaged 11% in OECD countries, ranging from 6.3% in Italy to 17% in Chile. (C4)

In the classroom

Students in OECD countries and economies receive an average of 7 590 hours of compulsory instruction during their primary and lower secondary education, ranging from 5 973 hours in Hungary to almost double that in Australia (11 000 hours) and Denmark (10 960 hours). (D1)

The proportion of the compulsory curriculum devoted to mathematics at the primary level ranges from 12% in Denmark to 27% in Mexico; at the lower secondary level, it ranges from about 11% in Hungary, Ireland and Korea to 16% in Chile, Latvia and the Russian Federation (and 20% in Italy, including natural sciences). (D1)

On average across OECD countries, there are 15 students for every teacher in primary education and 13 students per teacher in lower secondary education. The average school class has 21 students in primary education and 23 students in lower secondary education. (D2)

The teaching workforce is ageing: on average across OECD countries, 36% of primary to secondary teachers were at least 50­ years old in 2017, up 5 percentage points from 2005. Only 10% of teachers are aged under 30. The profession is also still largely dominated by women, who comprise seven out of ten teachers, on average, across OECD­ countries. (D5)

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Economic Activity in Myanmar to Remain at Low Levels, with the Overall Outlook Bleak

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Myanmar’s economy and people continue to be severely tested by the ongoing impacts of the military coup and the surge in COVID-19 cases in 2021. Following an expected 18 percent contraction of the economy in the year ended September 2021, the World Bank’s Myanmar Economic Monitor, released today, projects growth of 1 percent in the year to September 2022. While reflecting recent signs of stabilization in some areas, the projection remains consistent with a critically weak economy, around 30 percent smaller than it might have been in the absence of COVID-19 and the February 2021 coup.

The near-term outlook will depend on the evolution of the pandemic and the effects of conflict, together with the degree to which foreign exchange and financial sector constraints persist, as well as disruptions to other key services including electricity, logistics and digital connectivity.

“The situation and outlook for most people in Myanmar continues to be extremely worrying,” said World Bank Country Director for Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR Mariam Sherman. “Recent trends of escalating conflict are concerning – firstly from a humanitarian perspective but also from the implications for economic activity. Moreover, with a low vaccination rate and inadequate health services, Myanmar is highly vulnerable to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.”

Among recent signs of economic stabilization, mobility has recovered to 2020 levels after falling around 70 percent below pre-COVID-19 baseline levels in July 2021, though it remains about 30 percent below pre-pandemic levels for retail, recreation, and transport venues. This is likely to have supported the services sector, though overall consumer demand continues to be weak due to recent shocks to incomes and employment. In the manufacturing sector, output and employment also appear to be stabilizing, and exports have recovered in recent months.

Nevertheless, economic activity continues to be affected by substantial weaknesses in both supply and demand. Firms continue to report sharp reductions in sales and profits, cashflow shortages, and a lack of adequate access to banking and internet services. Results from the latest World Bank firms’ survey indicate that around half of all companies experienced disruptions in the supply of inputs and raw materials in October, largely because of increases in costs amid logistics constraints and a sharp depreciation of the kyat. Farmers continue to be affected by higher prices for key inputs, restricted access to credit, and ongoing logistics constraints.

Ongoing economic pressures are having a substantial effect on vulnerability and food security, particularly for the poor, whose savings have been drained as a result of recent shocks. The share of Myanmar’s population living in poverty is expected to have doubled compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. Combined with pressures on agricultural production, rapid price inflation and reduced access to credit are expected to further compound food security risks.

Over the longer term, events since February 2021 are expected to limit Myanmar’s growth potential. “Most indicators suggest that private investment has fallen markedly, and previously viable projects are becoming unviable as demand remains weak, the cost of imports has risen, and kyat-denominated revenues are worth less in foreign currency terms,” said World Bank Senior Economist for Myanmar Kim Edwards. “In addition, lost months of education, together with large increases in unemployment and displacement, will substantially reduce human capital, skills and productive capacity over the longer term.”

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Structural Reforms Needed to Put Tunisia on Path to Sustainable Growth

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Decisive structural reforms and an improved business climate are essential to put Tunisia’s economy on a more sustainable path, create jobs for the growing youth population and better manage the country’s debt burden, according to the Winter 2021 Edition of the World Bank’s Tunisia Economic Monitor.

Titled “Economic Reforms to Navigate out of the Crisis” (in French, “Réformes économiques pour sortir de la crise”), the report estimates a slow economic recovery from COVID-19, with projected growth of 3% in 2021. Weighing on this recovery is rising unemployment, which increased from 15.1% to 18.4% in the third quarter of 2021, affecting the youth and people in the western regions hardest.

The report outlines how the weak recovery puts pressure on Tunisia’s already strained public finances, with the budget deficit still elevated at 7.6% in 2021, despite a small contraction from 9.4% in 2020.  The budget deficit is projected to gradually decline, reaching 5% to 7% of GDP in 2022-23, helped by lower health-related expenditures and provided that the moderately positive trajectory of spending and revenue are maintained. However, Tunisia’s rising public debt will be hard to finance without decisive public finance and economic reforms, the report noted.

“Just like everywhere else, COVID-19 has adversely affected Tunisia’s economy and the report strongly highlights the need to address longstanding challenges to sustainable growth, including improving the business environment,” said Alexandre Arrobbio, World Bank Country Manager for Tunisia. “To emerge from this crisis, Tunisia needs to adopt decisive reforms to promote private sector development, boost competitiveness and create more jobs, especially for women and youth.”

The first chapter of the report analyzes potential reasons behind Tunisia’s slow economic recovery and highlights two specific factors: the country’s reliance on tourism and transport services; and the rigidity of the business climate, including restrictions on investments and competition which constrain the reallocation of resources in the economy.

The second chapter elaborates on key barriers to competition, arguing that Tunisia’s current regulatory environment restricts competition and discourages the development of new businesses. Looking ahead, the report recommends that policy reforms to ensure a level playing field in every sector are essential in order to boost employment for Tunisians and to increase purchasing power.  

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Lebanon’s Crisis: Great Denial in the Deliberate Depression

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The scale and scope of Lebanon’s deliberate depression are leading to the disintegration of key pillars of Lebanon’s post-civil war political economy. This is being manifested by a collapse of the most basic public services; persistent and debilitating internal political discord; and mass brain drain. Meanwhile, the poor and the middle class, who were never well served under this model in the first place, are carrying the main burden of the crisis.

According to the World Bank Lebanon Economic Monitor (LEM) Fall 2021 “The Great Denial”, Lebanon’s deliberate depression is orchestrated by the country’s elite that has long captured the state and lived off its economic rents.  This capture persists despite the severity of the crisis –one of the top ten, possibly top three most severe economic collapses worldwide since the 1850s; it has come to threaten the country’s long-term stability and social peace. The country’s post-war economic development model which thrived on large capital inflows and international support in return for promises of reforms is bankrupt. In addition, the collapse is occurring in a highly unstable geo-political environment making the urgency of addressing the dire crisis even more pressing.

The LEM estimates real GDP to decline by 10.5 percent in 2021, on the back of a 21.4 contraction in 2020. In fact, Lebanon’s GDP plummeted from close to US$52 billion in 2019 to a projected US$21.8 billion in 2021, marking a 58.1 percent contraction—the highest contraction in a list of 193 countries.

Monetary and financial turmoil continue to drive crisis conditions, under a multiple exchange rate system which poses valuable challenges on the economy. The sharp deterioration in the Lebanese Lira persisted in 2021, with the US$ banknote rate and the World Bank Average Exchange rate depreciating by 211 and 219 percent (year-on-year), respectively, over the first 11 months of the year. Exchange rate pass through effects on prices have resulted in surging inflation, estimated to average 145 percent in 2021—ranking 3rd globally after Venezuela and Sudan. Inflation is a highly regressive tax, disproportionally affecting the poor and vulnerable, and more generally, people living on fixed income like pensioners. Food inflation remains concerning as it forms a larger proportion of the expenses incurred by poorer households who are struggling to make ends meet with their deteriorating purchasing power.

Government revenues are estimated to almost halve in 2021 to reach 6.6 percent of GDP, marking the 3rd lowest ratio globally after Somalia and Yemen. The expenditure contraction was even more pronounced, led partially by drastic cutbacks in primary spending, which has reinforced the economic spiral. Meanwhile, gross debt is estimated to reach 183 percent of GDP in 2021, taking Lebanon to the 4th highest ratio in the world preceded only by Japan, Sudan and Greece.

A rare relative bright spot in 2021 has been tourism, which helped hold the current account deficit-to-GDP ratio steady.

Starting Spring 2021, a disorderly termination of the foreign exchange (FX) subsidy commenced and was in full force by the summer. The path authorities followed to the subsidy removal was opaque, inadequately coordinated and lacked timely pro-poor alleviation measures. As a result, subsidy removal mostly benefited importers and smugglers while precious and scarce FX resources were drained.

“Deliberate denial during deliberate depression is creating long-lasting scars on the economy and society. Over two years into the financial crisis, Lebanon has yet to identify, least of all embark upon, a credible path toward economic and financial recovery,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The Government of Lebanon urgently needs to move forward with the adoption of a credible, comprehensive and equitable macro-financial stabilization and recovery plan and accelerate its implementation if it is to avoid a complete destruction of its social and economic networks and immediately stop irreversible loss of human capital. The World Bank reconfirms its readiness to continue to support Lebanon in addressing the pressing needs of its people and challenges affecting their livelihoods.”

As detailed and called for in previous issues of the LEM, this strategy would be based on: (i) a new monetary policy framework that would regain confidence and stability in the exchange rate; (ii) a debt restructuring program that would achieve short-term fiscal space and medium-term debt sustainability; (iii) a comprehensive restructuring of the financial sector to regain solvency of the banking sector; (iv) a phased, equitable, fiscal adjustment to regain confidence in fiscal policy; (v) growth enhancing reforms; and (vi) enhanced social protection.

Particularly, initiating a comprehensive, well-structured and swift reform of the electricity sector is critical to address the long-standing and compounding challenges of this sector which is at the center of Lebanon’s economic and social recovery. In addition, Lebanon needs to step-up efforts to ensure efficient and prompt delivery of social protection assistance to the poor and vulnerable households struggling under the continuing economic crisis.

The Special Focus section of the LEM “Searching for the External Lift in the Deliberate Depression” examines the reasons for the weaker than expected increase in exports considering the Lebanese Lira’s sharp depreciation; it analyzes the failure thus far for the external sector to sufficiently benefit from increased price competitiveness and become a more robust driver of growth. The Special Focus finds that Lebanon’s exports are inhibited by three factors (outside of the crisis itself): (i) (pre crisis) economic fundamentals; (ii) global conditions; and (iii) political/institutional environment.

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