Tertiary education in OECD countries

Posted by Osvaldo

December 19, 2017

I’ve read on multiple occasions that the fraction of the population with a tertiary degree in Italy is much lower than in other countries. I’ve always wondered how much this can be explained with the fact that, until relatively recently, Italy only had one type of academic degree.

As a consequence of the Bologna process, Italy reformed its academic degree system in 1999, introducing a three-year Bachelor’s and a two-year Master’s degree (laurea triennale and laurea specialistica). Before then, a single degree called laurea, with programs ranging from four to six years, was offered. I remember when, during my Erasmus in France, I would describe this to French students. Their reaction: “But then, if you want to quit after three years, you will have wasted time because you don’t have any degree!”

Since the old laurea is equivalent to the Master’s degree, those born before, approximately, 1981, either have a Master or nothing.

OECD makes available a table with the fraction of the population that has attained different levels of education (data from 2016). For tertiary education, this is split over Bachelor’s, Master’s, Short-cycle tertiary and Doctoral degrees. The numbers are shown in the plot below (Italy is between Finland and E22, the plot is zoomable).

The fraction of the population with a Master’s degree or equivalent in Italy is 13.7 %, exactly equivalent to the E22 average and slightly higher than the OECD average (11.9%). Only 3.6% have a Bachelor’s, though, while the EU22 average is 13.2 %.

If we want to see the prevalence of tertiary degrees by age group, data are not split anymore by different types of degrees (at least, I haven’t found the data) and we only have a “tertiary education” indicator, displayed in the plot below.

Although the younger generations have doubled the earlier ones in achieving tertiary eduaction (but, remember, older ones could not choose to stop after a Bachelor), there is still a wide gap compared to OECD average.

Photo by Chris Petrow on Unsplash.