Europe's unemployment crisis has had the worst impact on people who failed to complete secondary school education, regardless of age, says a new report on education around the world.
The report, "Education at a Glance", by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), shows the sharpest spike in unemployment for people who did not complete secondary school education, followed by those who did and finally those who went on to complete higher education such as university qualifications.
The report, launched yesterday (25 June) at the European Commission in Brussels, said that unemployment rates among the 34 rich OECD-member countries were three times higher for people without secondary education, some 13%. The difference was even more marked across the EU.
By contrast, unemployment rates for the highly educated in OECD and EU countries are about 5% and 6% respectively, though this also increased during the crisis.
'Low skills, low wage future'
The OECD says that a good education has proved the best insurance for young people against a lack of work experience during the crisis. The difference between the number of poorly educated young people in work compared to poorly educated over-25s is particularly large in the EU.
“Leaving school with good qualifications is more essential than ever,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “Countries must focus efforts on helping young people, especially the less well-educated who are most at risk of being trapped in a low skills, low wage future."
Gurría said government priorities should be reducing school dropout rates and investing in skills-oriented education. The EU and social organisations, including employment associations and trade unions have called for more apprenticeships and work-based learning in order to prepare young people for entry into the workforce.
Despite record unemployment there are 1.7 million job vacancies in the EU, according to the latest issue of the European Vacancy Monitor, an EU labour market bulletin.
The report found that countries with more vocational graduates than the average (32%), such as Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland, saw unemployment rise much less.
The crisis has also widened the income gap between the low and the highly educated. The OECD said the average difference in earnings from employment between the low educated and the university educated rose from 75% across OECD countries in 2008 to 90% in 2011.
Androulla Vassiliou, the European commissioner for education and youth, warned that the crisis had halted the trend for increased government spending on education. Between 2009 and 2010 public spending on education as a percentage of GDP fell by 1% on average among OECD countries.
Public expenditure on education decreased by 2% or less in Austria, Ireland, Portugal and Spain during the crisis. Estonia, Hungary and Italy cut their education budget by more than 2%.
"Investing in education always pays off in the long run and member states cannot afford to forget this when it comes to allocating public budgets," Vassiliou said. "As the report confirms, cutting back on education spending in general, and on teachers' salaries in particular, can hinder our objective of providing efficient and high quality education systems."