The world’s largest international education rankings, comparing standards in maths and science across 95 different countries, have been released today, with the UK trailing behind Poland, Slovenia and Vietnam.
Levels of basic skills in the subjects have been combined with measures of national economic performance in the report, which concludes that raising skill levels could significantly improve economic growth in all countries.
The report ranks the UK 20th out of the core 76 countries. Singapore is top, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.
It shows that around a fifth of 15-year-olds in the UK lack the basic skills that would make them functionally literate in maths and science and able to perform simple tasks like exchange rate calculations.
The report’s authors calculate that ensuring that all youngsters in the UK reach a basic skills level by 2030 would add £2.33 trillion to the nation's economy by 2095.
The comparisons amount to the “first true global metric of the quality of education”, according to Andreas Schleicher (pictured), education director at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is publishing them this morning.
It has brought together the latest results in maths and science from Pisa (the Programme for International Student Assessment) and TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) to compare skill levels in the subjects among pupils in 76 different countries.
The report has also used results from two regional assessments to expand the study to include estimates of comparative performance among an additional 19 countries – six from Latin America and 13 from sub-Saharan Africa.
Mr Schleicher admitted that the regional assessments were “not directly comparable” with Pisa but said that, by looking at the results of countries that took part in the regional and global studies, a “fairly strong assumption” about other countries’ performance could be made.
It also found that in nine countries - Ghana, Honduras, South Africa, Morocco, Indonesia, Peru, Qatar, Colombia and Botswana - more than two-thirds of students fail to meet the basic skills level.
But Professor Hugh Lauder, from the University of Bath said it was “very strange” that report, Universal basic skills: what countries stand to gain, was making predictions based on skill levels decades into the future when the global economy was “fundamentally in many ways inimical to skills”.
“What we had assumed 10 to 15 years ago was that globalisation and use of technology would be increasing the demand for skills,” said the academic, who specialises in education, political economy and the labour market.
“That doesn’t seem to be the case. In this country around 50 per cent of graduates don’t do graduate work.”