B3 Who is expected to graduate from upper secondary education?
Gender profile of upper secondary graduates
An upper secondary qualification is generally the minimum requirement to integrate the labor market and necessary for continuing to further education. Young people who did not have the opportunity to finish high school face challenges in the labour market, including worse employment prospects. Moreover, men and women do not make similar choices, which explains their offers for higher education and their job opportunities. An additional indicator that can explain the non-completion of upper secondary programme is the socioeconomic background of students. Therefore, the analysis of these choices and their outcomes is very important to guaranteeing inclusive educational opportunities and defining policies that address inequalities.
Upper secondary graduation, by programme orientation
Vocational pathways are important components of upper secondary education in many OECD countries, and key opportunities for students to gain practical work experience for their future careers. Three years ago, on average across OECD countries, 38% of upper secondary graduates obtained a vocational qualification, ranging from 6% in Canada to 76% in Austria.
In general, men tend to be more interested by a vocational pathway than women (Education at a Glance Database). On average across OECD countries, in 2019, women enrolled in upper secondary graduates represented 55%, and 45% in vocational programmes, which explains the lower number of men enrolled in higher education programmes.
Upper secondary vocational graduation, by field of study
The choice of field of study when aiming for vocational education is intrinsically connected to employment outcomes and career choices. Nonetheless, choices of field of study differ by gender. Social perceptions of the role of men and women can explain the choice of careers, as well as natural inclination and preferences. A significant share of students in upper secondary vocational education graduated from engineering, manufacturing, and construction programmes in 2019, followed by business, administration and law (17%); services (17%); and health and welfare (12%).
Moreover, women are more inclined to choose subjects in the field of business, administration, and law as well as health and welfare. On the other hand, men are more interested by studying engineering as well as information, communication, and technology, which are in great demand in the labour market in OECD countries. Indeed, these differences can be explained through cultural and traditional perceptions of the role of women and men in particular career pathways. Some studies have demonstrated that these gender differences in the choice of field of study are reflected in the career expectations of 15-year-olds: on average across OECD countries, only 14% of the girls who were top performers in science or mathematics aimed to pursue a career in science or engineering, compared with 26% of the top-performing boys. During the global pandemic, most of the health-care workforce in the frontline were females (Gabster et al., 2020). The shortages of nurses across OECD economies have shed light on the importance for governments to ensure that more men apply in this field in order to resolve the resource issue in the health sector and tackle an ignored gender gap.
Gender profile of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates
Another category of post-secondary non-tertiary programmes (ISCED level 4) are offered in OECD countries. These programmes are between upper secondary and post-secondary education and may be considered either upper secondary or post-secondary programmes, depending on the education system of the respective country. However, these types of programmes are not significantly higher than upper secondary qualification, since they only expand the knowledge of students who have graduated with upper secondary qualifications. Only vocationally oriented, post-secondary non-tertiary programmes are generally less prominent in the educational landscape in comparison to other levels of education. In 2019, post-secondary non-tertiary education was constituted by only 1% of 15- to 19-year-olds enrollment rate.
Post-secondary non-tertiary graduation, by programme orientation
On average across OECD countries, approximately 95% of post-secondary non-tertiary first-time graduates have graduated from vocational programmes. The level of professionalism after graduating from these educational programmes is quite high since graduates are expected to directly integrate in the labour market.
Post-secondary non-tertiary graduation, by field of study
On average across OECD countries, 23% of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates in vocational programmes specialised in health and welfare; 21% in engineering, manufacturing and construction; and 18% in both business, administration and law and services. On average across the latter, women represent 54% of post-secondary non-tertiary vocational graduates.
However, this is not the case in all countries. It ranges from 23% in Luxembourg to 76% in Poland. Two factors can explain these variations: 1) women have a higher graduation rate in upper secondary vocational education than men so they are more likely to continue their studies in post-secondary education and, 2) the high number of female students represented in certain broad fields of study such as health and social welfare, and business, administration and law – fields which are very frequent in short-cycle tertiary vocational education at tertiary level, but especially in post-secondary non-tertiary education (OECD, 2020). Furthermore, in most countries with available data, female students represent more than half of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates from vocational programmes.
First-time graduation rates
Upper secondary education is internationally considered as the minimum level of qualification for successful integration into the labor market and almost mandatory to pursue further education. The consequences of failing this level of education on time can be damaging to both individuals and society. In addition, graduate rates can be considered as a key indicator of whether governments have invested enough to increase the number of students graduating from upper secondary education. Therefore, the contrast in graduation rates among countries reflect the difference of educational systems and programmes available as well as current social norms and economic performance. 80% of adults before the age 25 should enjoy a first-time graduation from upper secondary education, if current graduation patterns continue on average across OECD countries.
Post-secondary non-tertiary graduation rates
First-time graduation rates from post-secondary non-tertiary education are generally lower than those from upper-secondary programmes. On average, 6% of today’s young adults in OECD countries will finish post-secondary non-tertiary programmes before they turn 30 if current graduation patterns continue.
Summarized by Faical Al Azib from OECD, Education at a Glance 2021: OECD Indicators – Indicator B1; B2; B3. Access to Education, Participation and Progress: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/b35a14e5-en.pdf?expires=1645351809&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=0B361D22CD2C8DE309F5589F172BD8A2