The share of the population that has attained qualifications at the tertiary level is a key indicator of how well countries are placed to profit from technological and scientific progress. The difference between tertiary attainment of younger and older age groups is a measure of progress in the attainment of higher education.
For each age group shown, those who have completed tertiary education are shown as a percentage of all persons in that age group. Tertiary education includes both tertiary-type "A programmes" , which are largely theoretically-based and designed to provide qualifications for entry to advanced research programmes and professions with high skill requirements, as well as tertiary-type "B programmes" which are classified at the same level of competencies as tertiary-type A programmes but are more occupationally-oriented and lead to direct labour market access. The tertiary attainment profiles are based on the percentage of the population aged 25 to 64 that has completed that level of education.
The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED-97) is used to define the levels of education in a comparable way across countries. See the OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Statistics for a description of ISCED-97 education programmes and attainment levels and their mappings for each country.
OECD countries have seen significant increases in the proportion of the adult population attaining tertiary education over the last decades. In 2006 for the 25-64 year-old population, 15 countries are grouped together within a range of 10 points between 25 and 35% of the population having attained the tertiary level. Three member countries are performing remarkably high: Canada, Japan and the United States. Conversely, two member countries are significantly below this average percentage in tertiary attainment where less than 13% of the population has attained tertiary qualifications: Italy and Turkey.
In the youngest age group, 25 to 34 years old, the OECD country average for tertiary attainment increased from 25 to 33% between 1997 and 2006. In three OECD countries - Canada, Japan and Korea - 50% or more of this age group had in 2006 obtained a tertiary qualification.
An indication of longer term trends can be obtained by comparing the current attainment levels of younger and older age cohorts. For instance, comparing the tertiary attainment levels of 25-34 year olds with those of 55-64 year olds indicates that in Korea, there has been an increase in tertiary attainment over the past 30 years of more than 40 percentage points, nearly 30 percentage points higher than the OECD average increase over this period. In contrast, some OECD countries have only seen marginal increases (USA) or even decreases (Germany) of over the same period.
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