International comparisons of qualifications

International comparisons of qualifications

THE UK has made significant improvements in qualification levels and is closing the gap with other countries, according to a report from the Department for Education and Skills. The study is the third in a series comparing qualifications in the UK with those in France, Germany, the USA and Singapore, and follows reports published in 1997 and 2001. The UK had the highest growth rate of all the countries reviewed for the period 1994 to 2003, mostly because of better qualifications now held by young people. However, despite the recent improvements the UK is still behind the comparator countries in many areas.

The study aims to allow UK policy makers to see how stocks of qualifications in the UK population compare with those in other countries, and also includes analysis of growth over time. The series uses international benchmarks which were established through detailed investigation of the standard of the main qualification/certification in the countries studied. Four levels of classification were used which closely correspond to the levels of the UK National Qualifications Framework, and the methodology maps other countries’ qualifications on to the UK system of NVQ equivalent levels.

The study found that the UK had the highest growth rate for qualifications at level 2 (equivalent to NVQ level 2 or five GCSEs at grade C and above, for example) and above that of all the countries reviewed for the period 1994 to 2003. The majority of this growth occurred between 1994 and 1998. Growth for the UK population at level 2 and above averaged 2.7 per cent per year from 1994 to 2003, compared with 1.4 per cent for France and 0.8 per cent for Germany.

The number of 19 to 21-year-olds in the UK qualified to level 2 and above (72 per cent) in 2003 was higher than in Germany (68 per cent) and the USA (66 per cent), but this in part reflects the fact that students in the UK reach level 2 earlier. Students in Germany, for example, are still studying at this age, and in the older age groups higher proportions of the German workforce were qualified to level 2 and above. The UK workforce continued to have the lowest proportion of people qualified to level 2 and above, at 64 per cent. This compared with 67 per cent in Singapore, 73 per cent in the USA, 77 per cent in France and 85 per cent in Germany.

The gap between the UK and the other countries in the study at level 2 and above narrowed considerably for the 25 to 28-yearold age group. In 2002/03 the gap between the UK and both France and Germany was less than half of that in 1994.

The UK also had high growth for qualifications at level 3 (equivalent to NVQ level 3, OND or two A levels, for example) and above between 1994 and 2003, at 3 per cent average annual growth for the total population. This was similar to the rate in France but higher than that in the USA and Germany, both with growth rates of 1 per cent. Singapore had the highest rates of growth at level 3 and above, particularly for 25 to 28-year-olds where the rate was over 6 cent, compared with just under 5 per cent in the UK and France and less than I per cent in Germany and the USA.

In 2003 the total UK workforce had more people qualified at level 3 and above (44 per cent) than France (41 per cent) and Singapore (39 per cent) but less people than Germany (68 per cent) and the USA (57 per cent).

The UK had high numbers of people qualified to level 4 (equivalent to NVQ level 4, HNDs and first degrees, for example) and above, with 25 per cent of people holding an equivalent qualification in 2003. This compared with 34 per cent in the USA, 22 per cent in France, 20 per cent in Singapore and 19 per cent in Germany. Most of this growth was in general educational qualifications rather than vocational qualification.

The study also looked at the qualification levels of women in the countries for which data were available. In the UK, Germany and the USA in 2002/03 19 to 21-year-old women were slightly ahead of the men in this age group at level 2 and above. At the same time, compared with the total population (aged 16-64), women in the UK, France and Germany were slightly less well qualified.

The report International Comparisons of Qualifications: Skills Audit Update by Hilary Steedman, Steve McIntosh and Andy Green was commissioned by the Department of Education and Skills. Copies of the full report (RR548) are available by writing to WES Publications, PO Box 5050, Sherwood Park, Annesley, Nottingham, NG15 ODJ, priced 4.95. It may be downloaded free of charge from data/uploadfiles/RR548.pdf. For more information contact Vikki Caulfield, email or tel. 0114 259 4309.

Copyright The Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office Sep 2004

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