The world’s top-scoring graduates aren’t from the U.S. or UK

Based on global university rankings, many of the world’s best universities are located in the U.S. and UK.

But while these renowned institutions of learning provide top-quality education, how do they fare when it comes to the graduates they’re producing?

It turns out that a report recently released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows a completely different picture.

According to its Education at a Glance 2016 report, graduates in Japan and Finland scored the highest in literacy skills based on test results.

Up to 37 percent of graduates from the two countries achieved Level 4 or 5 in literacy proficiency tests, followed closely by the Netherlands (36 percent), Sweden (34 percent), and Australia (32 percent) to round out the top five.

England and the U.S., however, appear at the bottom two of the top 10.

OECD’s top 10 countries with highest graduate literacy scores

  1. Japan

  2. Finland

  3. Netherlands

  4. Sweden

  5. Australia

  6. Norway

  7. Belgium

  8. New Zealand

  9. England

  10. United States

What’s surprising about the results is the fact that universities in the top three countries don’t often make the top 10 in university rankings.

The BBC’s Sean Coughlan compared the OECD’s findings to the QS World University Rankings – where the top 10 is dominated by U.S. institutions – in a bid to highlight the fact that university rankings and expensive tuition fees aren’t accurate predictors of graduate outcome.

In the latest QS World University Rankings, 32 U.S. universities feature in the top 100, while New Zealand only had one.

However, graduates from New Zealand achieved higher scores compared to those in the U.S., as did Dutch graduates, who were the product of a university system that typically charges tuition fees far lower compared to those in the U.S. and England.

Coughlan also pointed out that countries known for their efficient primary and secondary school systems might not see it translate into knowledgeable graduates later down the road, as seen in South Korea and Singapore, which had fewer high-scoring graduates than the OECD average.

Speaking to the BBC, Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s education director, said the results showed that ability levels can “vary hugely among people with similar qualifications” due to “major differences in the quality of higher education” between countries.

“When it comes to advanced literacy skills, you might be better off getting a high school degree in Japan, Finland, or the Netherlands than getting a tertiary degree in Italy, Spain or Greece,” he said.

Ben Sowter, director of the QS World University Rankings, added his two cents, saying that university rankings are only able to demonstrate differences between individual institutions, but cannot be used to evaluate how well a country’s higher education system is performing overall.

He explained this was because university rankings focus on an elite group of top-performing universities, while the OECD report compared standards across national higher education systems, which was why the “highly polarised” education system in the U.S. wouldn’t be as evident in the rankings.

“It is probably harder to run a bad university in Finland than in the U.S.,” he commented.

Image via Pixabay

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