A study released Tuesday by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation [OECD] shows access to education is growing worldwide, but the amount of higher education is deepening socioeconomic divides in many countries.
OECD researchers say those with lower educational levels have been harder hit by rising unemployment and tend to earn significantly less than those with higher degrees.
Across the 34 economically advanced countries assessed, unemployment rates are about five percent for people with a university education; it's nearly 20 percent for 25-34-year olds who do not have university degrees.
OECD Education and Skills Director Andreas Schleicher said this trend can be seen in emerging nations as well.
"You can see that in Brazil, you can see it in east Asia," he said. "For the countries where we do have the data, it is a pretty common trend. And the recent financial crisis has amplified the trend. Education makes more of a difference in terms of your life chances than it used to."
But the new study also finds education is flattening divides between some richer and emerging countries. Schleicher says nations such as China, Vietnam and Brazil are prioritizing education and investing scarce resources where it counts — in good teachers and principals, for example.
He said these countries want to ensure that all their children get a decent education.
"What is really interesting when you look at this data: the world is no longer divided between rich and well educated nations, and poor and badly educated ones," said Schleicher. "Some of these middle-income countries see enormous progress."
The new report also finds that rates of education are expanding faster in many emerging economies than in their richer counterparts.
It aslo offers a snapshot of the educational systems of both OECD member states as well as those of nearly a dozen nonmembers, including China, India, Colombia, Brazil and Russia.