'A personal view from Ian Stewart, Deloitte's Chief Economist in the UK. To subscribe and/or view previous editions just google 'Deloitte Monday Briefing'.
* Most conversations about the UK’s poor productivity record eventually turn to education and skills. Everyone agrees that education is vital but there is more debate about the relative value of different models and types of education. This week’s Briefing offers some thoughts on how the UK system compares to others and looks at some of the salient characteristics of the British model.
* Public expenditure on UK schools is relatively generous by international standards, though not in the top tier. In 2015, UK spending on primary and secondary education, at 3.8% of GDP, was above the OECD average and higher than in a number of rich economies including Canada, the US, Germany, Japan, France and the Netherlands. Norway, Denmark and Finland, countries which score high on most measures of educational attainment, spend more.
* UK schoolchildren rank above the OECD average for attainment in science and reading at the age of 15 and in line with the average for maths. Overall the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests put the UK in 23rd position in a field of 70 countries. The most highly rated countries, such as Singapore or Norway, are mainly rich, developed economies. But educational attainment is about more than money. Estonia with GDP per head at 55% of UK levels ranks above the UK in the PISA league as does Poland, with GDP per head at 36% of UK levels. Remarkably, Vietnam, with a GDP per head just 6% of UK levels is one place ahead of the UK in the PISA league.
* In 1950, just 3.4% of 17-30 year-olds in the UK went to university. By the year 2000, the proportion had risen to 25%. Today close to half of all young people attend university in the UK, a proportion that puts the UK near the top of the international league of university attendance.
* The headline numbers show UK students bear a higher burden of the cost of their university education than in any other country except the US. The UK system is, in practice, more progressive than this comparison suggests. Loan repayments do not kick in until income exceeds £25,000 and are written off after 30 years. As a result the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that only 17% of UK graduates will fully repay their loans and roughly half the value of all loans being written today will never be repaid. I suspect that the growing burden of unpaid student debt will prompt a growing focus on whether taxpayers, who will have to foot the bill, are getting value for money from the student loan system.
* The UK punches above its weight in higher education. According to the latest Times world university rankings the UK has eleven universities in the top 100 globally, second only to America’s 41. Between them Germany and France have ten universities in the top 100.
* The effect of a degree on lifetime earnings varies enormously by subject and institution. The standard benchmark for valuing degrees comes from comparing the lifetime earnings of graduates with non-graduates. The ‘graduate premium’ those from the UK’s Russell Group of leading universities stands at £177,000. Graduates of newer UK universities tend to command significantly lower premia; one estimate suggests that for all UK universities the graduate premium is around £100,000. Graduates of different courses also see different returns with those studying medicine, economics or maths tending to report the highest salaries five years after graduation. Those studying creative arts fare rather less well, with average earnings of only £22,200 at this point, compared to £44,900 for medics.
* The increase in the supply of graduates mean that many are employed in non-graduate jobs. The Office of National Statistics reports that just under 50% of recent UK graduates now do jobs which are “non-graduate” in nature – defined as involving tasks that do not normally require knowledge and skills developed through higher education to be performed competently. However, perhaps surprisingly, the graduate premium doesn’t appear to have been eroded, with non-graduates still earning approximately £10,000 more a year compared to a non-graduate in 2017, the same amount as in 2007.
* The flip side of the UK’s high university enrolment is relatively low levels of participation in vocational education. Only 32% of those aged 14-18 have had any vocational training in the UK. In Austria, Denmark and Switzerland the figure is closer to 65 to 70 per cent. A recent OECD report commented that, “England has too little vocational provision at postsecondary level in comparison with many other countries, and relative to potential demand”. The report went on to single out the patchy provision of workplace training as a particular challenge. In Germany, for instance, 63% of businesses in the private sector employ participants in vocational training schemes compared to 30.5% in the UK.
* In what is arguably one of the broadest measures of educational attainment, the World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index, the UK is in 23rd place in a field of 130 countries. Northern European and Anglophone countries dominate the top 20 in the league with, perhaps unsurprisingly, Norway, Finland and Switzerland, taking the top three slots.
* An end of term report for UK education might note its strengths, particularly in higher education, and areas for ‘development’ – notably vocational training. The verdict for the UK might perhaps be, not bad, but could do better.
* Yet there is no one universal solution for education. Simply copying successful nations is not practical or likely to generate success. There are aspects of the educationally high flying East Asian system such as heavy workloads, the use of paid tutors outside school and relentless exams that would probably not work well in the West. More studying and exams is not necessarily the solution. Finland’s widely admired education system involves less homework and fewer exams than the UK’s. In Switzerland children only start to read at the age of 6, around a year or more later than children in the UK. Nor is university necessarily the key. Germany and Switzerland, where educational attainment and incomes are especially high, send a lower proportion of 18 year-olds to university than the UK.
OUR REVIEW OF LAST WEEK’S NEWS
The UK FTSE 100 equity index ended the week up 0.6%% at 7,462.
Economics and business
* UK unemployment fell to a 45-year low of 3.9% and average real earnings rose by 1.5%, the highest figure in over two years
* UK inflation remained at 1.9% in March, below expectations
* UK retail sales rose by 6.7% in March on a year earlier, the biggest increase since October 2016
* The UK’s Office of National Statistics published a new index based on VAT returns in an attempt to use ‘big data’ to track the economy. The measure showed slightly more firms reporting a decline in turnover between Q4 and Q1 than reporting an increase
* PMI data showed German and French manufacturing activity continued to contract in April
* The Chinese economy grew above expectations at 6.4% in the first quarter, as government stimulus and a de-escalation of trade tensions with the US boosted activity
* A majority of fund managers think the US Fed has concluded its rate hiking cycle, according to the influential survey by Bank of America Merrill Lynch
* US retail sales rose by 1.6% in March from a month earlier, the biggest such gain since September 2017
* The FT reports that Turkey has propped up its foreign exchange reserves by short-term borrowing, raising worries about its ability to defend the lira in the event of a crisis
* Turkey’s unemployment rate rose to 14.7% in January, its highest level since 2009
* Bank of England governor Mark Carney and his French counterpart Villeroy de Galhau warned of the financial risks posed by climate change in an open letter saying, “If some companies and industries fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist”
* One of China’s leading AI start-ups, Sense Time, exited a joint venture in the province of Xinjiang after an international outcry over the surveillance and detention of the local Uighur people
* Amazon’s website is flooded with fake five-star reviews for products from unfamiliar brands, consumer group Which? claims
* Amazon’s cloud hosting services are not suitable for storing German police data due to the risk of US snooping, according to Germany’s top data protection officer
* NTT Communications, one of Japan’s biggest telecoms firms, is expected to open its new international headquarters in London, the FT reports
* The EU agreed to open trade talks with the US but said it would suspend them if President Trump were to impose new tariffs or refuse to withdraw existing steel and aluminium tariffs
* UK house prices grew at their weakest pace in nearly seven years in the year to February
Brexit and European politics
* Nigel Farage’s new party is on course for EU election victory, according to a YouGov poll
* The US Democratic speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the US would not strike a trade deal with the UK if Brexit undermines the Good Friday peace agreement
* European Council president Donald Tusk said he “dreams” of reversing Brexit and would not “give in to fatalism”
* Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas warned the UK cannot have a further Brexit extension beyond the agreed October deadline saying “You cannot drag out Brexit for a decade.”
* The Financial Conduct Authority said Brexit provides an opportunity to re-examine the future of financial regulation in the UK
* The FT reported that moderate Conservative MPs are set to endorse a candidate for prime minister in an effort to prevent the party being dominated by Eurosceptic members after Treason May steps down
* The UK government will inject £200m into the British Business Bank scheme designed to provide financing for business amid concerns over a post-Brexit reduction in funding from the EU
And finally… Orthodox priest Fr Sergei Zotov in Russia's Urals region has been posted to the remote village of Fershampenuaz to atone for his wife Oksana's participation in a beauty pageant during Lent, where she was crowned Miss Sensuality - Crime and Punishment
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