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Finnish higher-education level slips below OECD average

The percentage of the population with university-level degrees has gone up slightly in Finland since the turn of the millennium, but not as sharply as in other industrialised countries, according to OECD data.

A graduation procession for the Åbo Akademi University in the city of Turku (file photo). Image: Nora Engström / Yle
Yle News

Among the OECD's 38 member countries, the percentage of people aged 25–34 with tertiary education rose from 27 percent to 48 percent during the first two decades of this century, the Ministry of Education and Culture said on Monday.

In Finland, meanwhile, the share of the age group with university-level degrees rose only slightly from 39 to 40 percent. As a result, Finland's position has slipped in comparison with other industrialised nations.

At the turn of the millennium, Finland boasted one of the OECD's highest share of highly educated young adults, on par with the United States and South Korea. Last year it fell clearly below the OECD average to the level of Chile and Turkey.

A similar trend is developing among the broader working-age population, aged 25-64.

As recently as 2011, the share of people in this group with higher-education degrees in Finland was nearly eight percentage points higher than the OECD average, with Finland at 39.3 percent compared to the OECD average of 31.5 percent.

By last year the latter number had soared to 41.1 percent in the whole OECD, close to Finland's share of 42.3 percent. That means that Finland has moved from the top quarter of OECD countries to mid-table.

Higher degrees lead to lower unemployment levels

The results are from the OECD's Education at a Glance report, which this year focused on higher education.

The comparison does not take into consideration the quality of education, exam scores or career success, merely the number of residents completing tertiary degrees.

Holding a university degree gives young people strong job market advantages, though, the OECD said.

In 2021, the average unemployment rate for people in the OECD countries with tertiary degrees was four percent, compared to six percent for those who had only completed upper secondary education and 11 percent for those with lower levels of education.

"The dramatic rise in educational attainment is providing a unique opportunity to fuel economic and social progress in our countries," OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said in a statement.

Higher education also tends to correlate with higher salaries.

On average in the OECD countries, higher education brings a 55-percent wage advantage compared to a secondary degree.

In Finland, this advantage was 34 percent — lower than the OECD average, but higher than in other Nordic countries, the education ministry said.

"When comparing the education salary premium, Finland is interestingly the only OECD country where a secondary [university-level] degree does not increase the salary compared to a basic degree," it added.

Only a quarter of Finnish higher education students are now studying for higher university degrees at the master's level, while 69 percent are studying toward a bachelor-level degree, according to the ministry.

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