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Today UNESCO is assembling dignitaries from all over the world to talk about rankings in higher education. You may wonder what more remains to be said on that topic: rankings have been variously described as a distraction; a disease, even a disaster.

Rankings matter because higher education matters. Higher education matters not only because it drives innovation and growth but because it is a building block of social cohesion and democracy. Higher education matters to students and their families because it is crucial to personal development and to life chances. It matters to employers and employees because twenty-first century labour markets need twenty-first century skills.

Young people expect to be able to choose their university courses, and to do that they need information about the institutions and what they can expect from them. International rankings fill an information gap: the main reason for their growth is the expanding international student market. Last year around 320 000 international students were studying in Australia. That is almost six times the total number of students – Australian and overseas – that were there 50 years ago.


Those 50 years have seen a transition from a world in which higher education was reserved for an elite few to one where in some OECD countries it is an expectation for a majority. Students, employers and Governments need to understand how well our educational institutions and systems are doing.
You can be sure that very many prospective international students thinking of going abroad to study will look up one or more of the Shanghai, Times Higher or the QS rankings in order to help them decide which is the best place for them.

The problem is that they are unlikely to get that information from those rankings. Universities do much more than research –the great majority of them are primarily or exclusively teaching institutions - and those international rankings tell us nothing about teaching and learning.

The only internationally comparable and verifiable information that is available is on research output and impact. That is what the Shanghai ranking is based on and it does a good job of telling us what are and have been the leading research universities in the world.

That is why a group of OECD countries – and several others – are aiming to put things straight through the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes initiative. AHELO aims to establish a reliable way of collecting and analysing information on what higher education students have learned and can do. It is no simple task but the basis for this assessment is now in place and successful implementation of AHELO will transform the higher education accountability debate.

In the meantime, the international rankings that are currently available –for all the care that goes into compiling them – fall far short of capturing the range and depth of what universities and other higher education institutions do.

Accountability and transparency are essential and rankings have a valuable contribution to make. However when tools intended to provide information for students and their families are used to drive political and strategic decisions we have a problem. This is a zero-sum game: there will only ever be 100 universities in the “top” 100.

Rankings may be inconvenient, but they will not go away. They are not a disease, they are a symptom: a symptom of a lack of accountability and transparency which needs to be treated.


Go to the UNESCO/OECD/World Bank Global Forum: Rankings and Accountability in Higher Education: Uses and Misuses


Follow the conversations on twitter:  #unirankings


Do you believe that rankings fall far short of capturing the range and depth of what universities and other higher education institutions do?


Is it always a good thing when a university rises up the rankings and breaks into the top 100? Do rankings raise standards by encouraging competition or do they undermine the broader mission to provide education? Should rankings be used to help decide educational policy and the allocation of scarce financial resources? Should policy aim to develop world-class universities or to make the system world-class?

University rankings have dominated headlines and the attention of political and university leaders wherever or whenever they are published or mentioned. Politicians regularly refer to them as a measure of their nation’s economic strengths and aspirations, universities use them to help set or define targets. What started out as an innocuous consumer product – aimed at undergraduate domestic students – has rapidly become a global intelligence information business – impacting, influencing, and incentivizing higher education, and its stakeholders inside and outside the academy. Today, there are over 50 national rankings and ten global rankings, including the European Union’s U-Multirank.

However, while much of the focus has been on methodological issues or how rankings may influence student choice, little is known about how rankings influence government policy. Around the world, governments are using rankings to guide the restructuring of higher education because societies which are attractive to investment in research and innovation and highly skilled mobile talent will be more successful globally.

Yet, many of the justifications for using rankings are based on misunderstandings.

  1. It is widely believed that rankings provide useful comparative information about university performance, facilitating student choice and policymaking. However, global rankings focus primarily on research, and cannot provide meaningful comparative information about educational quality. By using quantitative data, rankings give the appearance of scientific verification, but it is difficult to measure quality by this method or to compare whole institutions in different national contexts.
  2. The indicators are often perceived as a plausible measure of research capability. However, by counting only peer-articles and citations, rankings fail to recognise the full spectrum of research across all fields of inquiry or their contribution to society and the economy.
  3. For many governments, concentrating resources in a few elite world-class universities has become the panacea for ensuring success in the global economy. But, estimates for a world-class university could cost over $1.5-2b annually. Few countries can afford this level of investment without sacrificing other policy objectives. More importantly, it is not obvious that this kind of investment will create sufficient patentable knowledge that can be exploited, while concentration could reduce over-all national research capacity.
  4. It is often believed that high ranked HEIs are better than lower ranked institutions. But this demands on the definition of quality. And, according to the International Association of Universities, there are 15,000 HEIs worldwide. Rankings usually promote only on the top 100.

Governments should stop obsessing about global rankings and the top 1% because they risk transforming their higher education system and institutions, and subverting other policy objectives, to conform to indicators designed by others for other purposes. What matters is how governments prioritize their objectives of a skilled labour force, equity, regional growth, better citizens, future Einsteins and global competitiveness, and translate them into policy. Rather than ranking institutions, governments should use benchmarking to improve the capacity and quality of the whole system – not simply reward the achievements of elites and flagship institutions.


Professor Ellen Hazelkorn

Vice President, Research and Enterprise, and Dean of the Graduate Research School

Head, Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU)

Dublin Institute of Technology


For a comprehensive analysis of influence and impact of rankings on higher education and policy from a global perspective, see E. Hazelkorn (2011) Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education. The Battle for World-Class Excellence
(Palgrave MacMillan,

To understand the growing importance of cross-national university assessments, you first have to understand the extent to which higher education has become a truly global institution. Students now hopscotch from country to country more than ever before. Western universities set up branch campuses in the Middle East and Asia. Nations from China and South Korea to Saudi Arabia compete intensely to create top-quality research universities. Perhaps inevitably, institutions like Times Higher Education and Shanghai Jiao Tong University have created university rankings to provide information about this fast-growing academic marketplace.


Yet critics have long noted that many factors used in various national and global rankings to determine university excellence – student qualifications, research spending, and faculty salaries, for instance – are measures of inputs. To better judge educational quality also requires assessing outputs. That could mean gauging research productivity (a not-always-easy, but I think legitimate approach), but output measures should also include a careful look at how much students really learn in the classroom. The absence of such learning measures has been perhaps the most glaring deficiency of rankings to date. What’s more, in a global education market it’s increasingly helpful to have common metrics that indicate not only what students are learning within a given country, but also across national borders.


Against this backdrop, I’ve become a fan of the OECD’s relatively new AHELO project. Known formally as the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes, AHELO focuses at the quality of undergraduate teaching and learning. It also assesses the demographic background of students, and the characteristics of each university, in order to put undergraduate learning in context. For now, AHELO is carrying out a multi-stage feasibility study in 15 countries, including the United States, Mexico, Finland, Egypt, Japan, and Australia. Small groups of students are being tested in “generic skills” such as analytical reasoning as well as in economics and engineering. Over the longer-term, AHELO analysts would like to go beyond taking a snapshot of learning to coming up with measures of value-added – helping answer the elusive question of how much students improve academically during their time at university.


AHEO is not intended to be a ranking. But assessment measures of all kinds, whatever their imperfections and whether or not they are called rankings, have the potential to be important consumer tools in a border-free educational world. When done well (and I believe rankings are already on the path to improvement) they can foster transparency, expose weak research, highlight effective instruction, and give universities the information they need to build the research and human capital on which innovation and economic growth depend. In the case of AHELO, a five-year-old OECD memo articulates its potential very well:


A direct assessment of the learning outcomes of higher education could provide governments with a powerful instrument to judge the effectiveness and international competitiveness of their higher education institutions, systems, and policies in the light of other countries’ performance, in ways that better reflection the multiple aims and contributions of tertiary education to society.




No venture like this is likely to be simple. There are  methodological difficulties to overcome, criticisms to contend with (both reasonable and less reasonable), and budget challenges to surmount. But AHELO’s potential seems unmistakable. In a rapidly globalizing academic world that lacks the kind of information students, universities, and governments need, AHELO promises to do a lot to close that gap.


Ben Wildavsky is a senior fellow in research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation and former education editor of U.S. News & World Report. He is the author of The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World, which won the Frandson Award for Literature in the Field of Continuing Higher Education and is being translated into Chinese, Vietnamese, and Arabic. He is also coeditor of Reinventing Higher Education: The Promise of Innovation, published by Harvard Education Press in April 2011.

Visit his blog:


Join the discussions: What do you think is the most glaring deficiency of University rankings to date?

Many countries have national tests of children at key points as they progress through the school system. They can be a source of tension and contention and are sometimes hotly debated. But what do kids who are being assessed think about them?

In a novel approach, a research team from the School of Education at Queen’s University Belfast went out and asked children aged 10-12 in England and Wales what they thought about the SAT Key Stage 2 assessments in science. 

Are you ready for some surprises? The research shows that kids have a pretty sophisticated understanding of what’s it’s all about.

Children understand the value of KS2 science assessment in helping them to learn, and they place importance on genuine feedback on how they are doing. Kids said:

“Science assessments help children to see how much they have improved in science and what they need to improve on. They are very useful.”

“Marks tell you how you’ve done....Comments tell you why”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to stop SATs because the children won’t try as hard and they will learn less because they won’t revise.”

Children also want different types of assessment. They wanted to be tested on a topic as soon as they had completed it, and more “fun” approaches to assessment, instead of just the pen-and-paper, sitting at a desk approach – presentations, group work and projects. Here's one child's suggestion:

“Put children in groups of five and do projects for each topic and present your project to the class. You could do different things for the project such as: models, PowerPoint, presentations, etc.”

And although many children feel stressed by the SAT tests, they (and their parents) also worry that the decision to abolish the science SATs will lower the status of science in primary schools.

So maybe we need to make the effort to find out more about what children think about different education policies and practices – and take their views into account when reforms are being considered. After all, it’s their future that’s at stake. 

To learn more about these research findings and the methodology used, the full report is available online at

See also Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes: Common Policy Challenges emerging from the OECD’s current review on this topic.

Assessment, testing, evaluation, appraisal – these words can easily raise hackles in education circles and become hotly contested. Do we need them? Should we have them? And do they actually raise performance? Protagonists easily become entrenched in their positions and the debates become increasingly shrill.  

So what happens when someone comes along and takes an outside, independent look at how a country’s policies for evaluation and assessment actually work? The OECD has just done exactly that for Denmark and here’s what they found.

Denmark holds high ambitions to improve student outcomes and the OECD praises Denmark for gaining broad agreement from all major stakeholders in efforts to stimulate an assessment and evaluation culture in compulsory education.

Over a short period of time, Denmark has also set up new national bodies to monitor and evaluate quality in compulsory education, new national measures on student outcomes in compulsory education and required municipalities to produce annual quality reports on their school systems.

But Denmark still has a way to go to get a coherent evaluation and assessment framework and with all the different elements – student assessment, teacher appraisal, school evaluation, and system evaluation – working well together.

The OECD’s report highlights Denmark’s strengths, then it sets out the challenges and finally, it offers Denmark some concrete and constructive feedback for improvement. It’s rather like an evaluation really – but there are no marks or grades here!   



To learn more about:

Denmark's Review:

Main Conclusions Denmark

Country Review Denmark

Pointers for Policy Development Denmark


Sweden's Review, released recently:

Main Conclusions Sweden

Country Review Sweden

Pointers for Policy Development Sweden


OECD Review of Evalaution and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes:

Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes: Common Policy Challenges

Open educational resources (OER) are providing more and more opportunities for learning


At no point in human history more knowledge has been generated. And technology in general and the Web in particular provide unique opportunities for knowledge to flow and to be shared by everyone. This dramatically alters the way people learn, unlocking potential we could only dream of a few years ago. Not exactly that people will be able to obtain a Harvard or Cambridge degree for free, but with educational content and even complete courses available online, self-directed learning is getting an enormous boost. A recent article, “Going to Harvard from your own bedroom” talks about the growing popularity and use of online university classes provided by the UK’s Open University, MIT, and Harvard, among others. And as an important side-effect, educational institutions have to increase the quality of the added-value value of the educational experience if knowledge itself is no longer their secret. Free-flowing educational resources probably will break the boundaries between the knowledge-rich and the knowledge-poor parts of the world. An example includes African villagers using up-to-date expertise on irrigation from MIT. According to one proponent, OER is “becoming a wider social imperative.”


Since exactly ten years ago the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Open Courseware Initiative announced that it would publish educational materials of all its courses openly and freely on the Internet, an astonishing movement has shaken the education world. Every day new universities and colleges are publishing educational resources, mostly in digital format, for other institutions to be used and for learners to enjoy. Probably the largest conglomerate of institutional open educational resources, the Open CourseWare Consortium, has a membership of several hundred institutions.  With education budgets dwindling and tuition prices swelling, a free Ivy League education seems like a pipe dream for most people.


The Cape Town Declaration in 2007 is a major initiative to promote OER in an ideal world, in which education resources would be accessible, high quality, effective, and sustainable.  In the meantime, policy makers, education institutions, and students will need to continue to work on refining and improving OER, and explore ways to make it more available to those who need it most.


The Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) has examined Open Educational Resources (OER), looking at the critical issues surrounding access, quality, and costs of information knowledge.  Evidently, true to the title: Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources, the results are available as a free publication.


But while the OER movement seeks to provide more educational resources online, some are worried about the opposite problem: too much information online. Although web education and information can be a tremendous resource, many teachers and academics are concerned that too many students are becoming dependent on Wikipedia and other encyclopedia-like websites to do research. A blog on Web 2.0 in the classroom asks whether or not Internet research is killing critical thinking. With so much information online, how do we teach students how to sift through the “junk?” New skills are needed, focusing on information management, ‘learning to learn’ and ‘meta-cognition’ (understanding and improving one’s own learning).


Drawing from lessons learned from previous  work by the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)  on OER, we will be exploring new policies for business models emerging around free content, new copyright licenses, such as creative commons, for the education sector.

For more information on OECD work on Open Educational Resources go to the website.

It’s not often that OECD encourages governments to spend more – especially when public debt is soaring and budget tightening is the order of the day. But early childhood education is an exception.


Of course, everyone knows that education is important – that’s why we all went to school. But did you know that investing in high-quality early learning before children go off to school produces a greater payoff over the longer term, especially for disadvantaged kids?


So what does Japan do with its education resources? It puts less public money into each child’s learning in pre-school or in day-care than the OECD average. Yet, once that same child goes to school, more is spent on them than the OECD average.


As a result, Japan’s youngest children are missing out on opportunities that children in other countries are getting. The children most likely to miss out come from poorer families, as their parents can’t afford to pay high fees for high quality services. Yet they need it most. And society misses out too, because high quality early childhood education and care leads to greater productivity gains and better social outcomes.


So that’s why the OECD’s latest Economic Survey tells Japan to cut public spending and increase taxes (while taking into account the need for reconstruction spending) and also calls for increased public spending on high quality early childhood education and care. It’s all about investing wisely and well in children today for a better future tomorrow – and thereafter.


To learn more, read:

Economic Survey of Japan Overview (English)

Economic Survey of Japan Overview (Japanese)

Investing in High Quality Early Childhood Education and Care

The clear blue sky over Oslo that morning was a source of inspiration for the plucky crowd of people drawn from  12 countries. Cross-country skiers? Marathon runners? No. These valiant men and women had gathered upon the invitation of Norway’s Ministry of Education and Research on 28-29 March 2011 to help the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) chart the way for a new international project on “Governing Complex Education Systems”.


To help them along the way, they were given lots of coffee and ample food for thought. Dr Sietske Waslander (University of Tilburg, The Netherlands) reviewed empirical evidence on the use of market mechanisms in education. Her research shows that few people rely solely on performance indicators and school rankings when making decisions, noting that “parents are not much different from any other busy policy maker”. Having straddled the lines between academia and Whitehall herself, Dr Judy Sebba (University of Sussex, UK) argued the merits of linking research to policy, echoing CERI’s own work on using evidence in education,  but warned against the “overuse, underuse or abuse of research in policy making”.


Inspired by the keynote speakers, participants gathered in small groups to tackle a host of thorny questions. These ranged from the highly abstract (how do governance and knowledge interact under conditions of complexity?) to the very concrete (in highly devolved systems how can education ministries intervene when a school is failing to improve its students’ learning outcomes?).  They identified decentralisation and devolution, multiple stakeholders and greater access to digital information as among the factors generating complexity in today’s education systems. Most agreed that capacity-building, timely and relevant information at the local government and/or school level would be part of the answer.


Recognising that complexity was here to stay, participants called on OECD CERI to develop user-friendly tools to help education decision-makers map the opportunities while navigating the inevitable challenges. A new hitchhiker’s guide to the (education) universe? Watch this space…

Pathways to Prosperity

Posted by 658326 Mar 30, 2011

Last spring I had the pleasure of spending three months in the OECD Directorate for Education, working mostly with Simon Field and colleagues on the “Learning for Jobs” project.  Prior to coming to OECD I had begun work with two colleagues at Harvard on a report called Pathways to Prosperity.  Our goal was to call attention to the fact that despite the increasing rhetoric about “college for all” in the US policy community, only 40% of 25 year-olds manage to earn a bachelor’s or associate’s (two-year) degree, and we have no national strategy for helping the rest of our young people make their way from secondary school into the labor market with skills and credentials.


In early February 2011 we released our Pathways report in a high-profile press event in Washington with Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  A major section of the report drew upon the lessons from “Learning for Jobs” as well as from other OECD studies and data sources.  The report has drawn extraordinary attention.


In addition to the immediate very substantial press coverage, my colleagues and I continue on an almost daily basis to get invitations to speak and write.  We have now received invitations from 17 states to present at major statewide gatherings, and we are beginning to design a large national project to help interested states move forward to build the kind of pathway systems outlined in the report.


As you’ll see from the op-ed article published in New York Daily News on March 27th 2011, our case rests heavily on the evidence and experience drawn from OECD’s work in this domain.  I’m delighted that our report is bringing your very valuable work to a broader US audience.


Bob Schwartz

Harvard Graduate School of Education

A first-of-its-kind summit on the teaching profession with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria


Imagine you were responsible for transforming your country’s educations outcomes.


Really, try to think about it. Which skills are the most important to learn? How do you reach students? How would you make time to learn new advances in education?

A team of policymakers, education organizations, teachers and leading thinkers in education admit that these questions are hard. One thing they’ve learned in school, however, is that solving problems in groups is usually easier than solving them on one’s own. Therefore, the OECD and the U.S. Department of Education thought it was important to host the First Annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession this week in New York.

The summit will bring together education ministers, union leaders, and other leaders in the field from high-quality education systems to review best practices based on an OECD background paper on the teaching profession (see the paper here). The paper covers topics such as teacher recruitment, professional development, evaluation, compensation, and how to engage teachers with changes in the education system.

The Summit Rapporteur, OECD’s Andreas Schleicher, commented on the importance of studying the way education systems manage teachers: “Education can become the great equalizer, the one force that can consistently overcome differences in background, culture, and privilege. But that promise only holds where we ensure that every student has access to excellent teaching. To achieve that, we can no longer afford organising teaching along the lines of a factory model, with teachers treated as interchangeable widgets and command and control systems directing their work.”

The OECD is no stranger to learning about and learning from teachers. Its broad and deep body of work on the topic, including the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), among others (see list below), will serve as a further background for the summit on Wednesday.

But background papers will never replace good old fashioned collaboration. With all the players at the table in New York this Wednesday and Thursday, that’s just what the OECD hopes to foster.


Participants at the conferences include:


Read more OECD work on:

New Zealand’s earthquake on 22 February has left a terrible toll in loss of life and in property damage. So far, there are 161 confirmed dead and that this figure expected to rise to around 220 as more bodies are recovered.


This earthquake, the second to hit Christchurch in six months, struck at 12.51 p.m, followed closely by significant aftershocks. Our New Zealand Ministry of Education colleagues report that although there has been significant damage to many school buildings, there were no deaths or major injuries to any students in its schools when the quake struck. Tragically however, a number of overseas English-language school students may have died in the collapsed Canterbury Television building located in the Christchurch central business district.


The ministry has indicated that it believes its school buildings generally did their job well in preserving student safety. This may in part be due to the lightweight timber construction used in many school buildings, as well as the extensive programme – undertaken from the 1970s to 1990s – to structurally strengthen the country’s earthquake-prone schools .


Needless to say, New Zealand faces a number of challenges in the aftermath of this quake as it tackles the replacement of services and repairs its infrastructure.


Getting schools operational is one. How can schooling be re-established in the days, weeks and months, when schools have to be demolished, relocated and rebuilt? Not only was there damage to the school buildings themselves, but also – in some cases –access to schools has been disrupted because roads are impassable, and vital services such as water and energy have been destroyed. In other cases, where there is no physical damage, staff are not available because their own houses have been destroyed, leaving them homeless. (See more)


Currently the Ministry of Education is considering a range of initiatives for getting its schools operational. These include establishing temporary facilities, increasing the number of relocatable classrooms on undamaged school sites, as well as using flat-pack factory construction units shipped down from the North Island. Another possibility is to locate two schools on one site, with one school using facilities in the morning, and one school in the afternoon. The government is also looking at delivering education into communities and neighbourhoods through television, the Internet and visiting teachers.


There will also be a continuing need for counselling and care for traumatised pupils and students in the weeks and months to come.


Things are not made any easier by the continuous trembling in the region. The world at large will know of the two major earthquakes, but may be less aware that since the earth shook violently on 4 September 2010, there were more than 4,800 aftershocks of various intensities before the quake on 22 February. There have been a further 390 since then. (


The impact on schooling has been far wider than just in the region around Christchurch, it has affected the whole country in one way or another as students and their families move to other parts of the country, leading to increases in enrolments. (See article on NZ welcoming southerners here)


Meanwhile, universities affected by the quake are now preparing to reopen as students, in at least one institution, make critical decisions about whether to transfer to other institutions. (See more)


A community-building aspect of the earthquake is the Student Volunteer Army. A group of university students organised themselves via Facebook to help the clean-up after the September earthquake. Now it has grown into an estimated 18,000 people, mostly students, who are out there every day helping with the clean up – reflecting a spirit of community in young people that is hugely appreciated in Christchurch and firmly rebuts any notion that young people these days are selfish and individualistic. (See article on young volunteer army here)


Our New Zealand colleagues have asked us to express their heartfelt thanks for all the expressions of sympathy they have received from around the world and particularly to all those countries that have provided, or offered, disaster rescue teams, police and other forms of assistance to their country in its time of need. Kia Kaha.


For more information: see the Centre of Effective Learning Environments (CELE) webpage: OECD initiative on Earthquake Safety in Schools here

Click here for a copy of the OECD’s publication “Keeping schools safe in earthquakes”.


iPad, iLearn?

Posted by 565478 Mar 2, 2011

Using new technology (such as the iPad) in classrooms is trending in some schools, but does it work?



Back in July, we wrote a blogpost on robots teaching students. While those of you who own iPads probably wouldn’t go so far as to call the iPad a robot, the newest classroom trend is to use iPads as teaching tools. In the United States, 8th grade students (13-14-year olds) in San Francisco are learning algebra with iPads (see A Day in the Life of an iPad Class). The iPad follows a traditional textbook but includes an application so students can watch videos of instructors explaining a problem as many times as they need. Schools across the United States have been piloting similar programmes using iPads, (see Math That Moves: Schools Embrace the iPad), and the trend is growing.

We know from Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” project that young children everywhere can and do figure out how to use technology and then teach other kids.

But assessing the effects of technology in the classroom is no small feat. The OECD has been a pioneer in this field and the recent report Assessing the Effects of ICT in Education: Indicators, Criteria and Benchmarks for International Comparisons provides some helpful benchmarks for how we think about and measure the effects of technology on learning.

The proof will be in the pudding. The San Francisco school mentioned above has not yet had higher test scores as a result of using the iPad, but they have seen more students interested in and engaged with the subject. If, as Bruce Friend observed in his blogpost, Using Technology to Engage Today’s Students, last November is accurate, “Being actively engaged in the learning process is core to [kids’ favourite] courses,” San Francisco may see some success ahead.

With education budgets tight, the $750 iPad might seem like an extraneous extravagance.


More worrying still, expensive technology in classrooms might also exacerbate the divide between more and less advantaged school districts and students. Not to mention, the difficulties that schools and teachers face when trying to digest new technological developments. OECD’s recent Inspired by Technology, Driven by Pedagogy addresses just this issue and takes a close look at the opportunities offered by technology, how technology-based innovations are monitored and assessed, and the role of research in documenting innovations.


What do you think? Will technology such as the iPad improve classroom learning?


Stepping out of the Ivory Tower

Posted by 565478 Feb 21, 2011

OECD Conference “For Stronger, Cleaner and Fairer Regions” in Seville, Spain, calls for more engagement and collaboration between universities and local economies

What better setting for a conference than the city of Seville, the regional capital of Andalusia. A melting pot of cultures, an ancient learning center, Seville has huge potential to be a world class city in the creative economy. The scientific and technological activity hub is fed by Seville’s three universities, whose laboratories and research centers work in close connection with private and public actors in various fields of research.


With Seville as a backdrop, the 10-11 February OECD Conference on Higher Education in Regional and City Development explored the role of universities in the context of today’s global economic and financial crisis. Aart de Geus, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD, asked higher education institutions (HEIs) to “come out of their ivory towers” by engaging with a wide range of stakeholders including business and industry.


The conference covered a wide range of topics from experts around the world. Jamil Salmi, the World Bank’s tertiary education co-ordinator, discussed the negative economic consequences of limited access to higher education systems by people from low socio-economic backgrounds. Susan Christopherson from Cornell University, was critical of the US technology transfer model which creates some patents, makes a handful of universities rich but does not create a significant number of jobs and businesses.


Jaana Puukka, OECD analyst and one of the organizers of the conference, stressed the importance of universities’ role in the labour market in an interview with University World News. “In very few places can we see there is robust knowledge about the graduate labour market. Some universities are following up their students' progress - but in more cases they are not and universities see their responsibility as 'you get them in, you get them out'. In some cases, 50% drop out,” Puukka said. She stressed that HEI leaders need to be more proactive in establishing an entrepreneurial and locally engaged institution that doesn’t depend entirely on the national legislative framework. As she said, the "first movers never wait for the law to be changed."


With more than 250 participants from around 40 countries, the conference not only provided a forum for participants to share best practices, but also presented the main findings and policy lessons from the second round of OECD Reviews of Higher Education in Regional and City Development.


If the city of Seville isn’t enough to make you step out of the Ivory Tower, maybe joining the third round of reviews will.


For more information and the presentations in Seville, check out the conference website.

Are socio-economically disadvantaged students condemned to perpetuate an intergenerational cycle of poor academic achievement, poor job prospects and poverty? Not if they attend schools that provide them with more regular classes and that nurture their personal motivation and self-confidence with positive approaches to learning.


That’s what OECD analysts found when they examined the results of the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey. Researchers focused on a group of students who displayed high levels of academic achievement despite the fact that they came from disadvantaged backgrounds. These “resilient” students essentially beat the odds stacked against them to outperform peers from the same socio-economic background.


Against the Odds: Disadvantaged Students Who Succeed in School, a new book from the OECD, takes a close look at these students to try to figure out what makes them so special and how to increase their number.


PISA results show that a large proportion of disadvantaged students do not even attain the PISA baseline proficiency level in science. These students risk completing their studies without acquiring the skills and competencies needed to fully participate in society and succeed in the labour market. In contrast, most resilient students, especially in OECD countries, achieve scores that place them in PISA’s top three proficiency levels in science.


Many disadvantaged students are vulnerable because, among other reasons, they spend very little time studying science. Learning time in school is one of the strongest predictors of which disadvantaged students will outperform their peers. In practically all OECD countries, and all partner countries and economies, the average resilient student spends more time studying science at school–on average, between one and two more hours per week–than the average disadvantaged low-achiever. But it is not only the quantity of time spent in school that matters; how that time is administered matters too.


Students’ confidence in their academic abilities also strongly predicts resilience: the more self-confident students are, the greater their odds of being resilient. Across OECD countries over 50% of resilient students believe that learning advanced science topics would be easy for them, while only about 40% of disadvantaged low-achievers think so. Some 75% of resilient students believe they can give good answers to test questions on science topics, while only about 50% of disadvantaged low-achievers share this belief. Motivation, particularly motivation that arises from a personal, internal drive, rather than motivation that is prompted by an external stimulus, such as the prospect of a certain job or salary, is also associated with student resilience in many countries, but that relationship is weaker.


This suggests that schools may have an important role to play in fostering resilience. Schools could start by developing activities, classroom practices and teaching methods that nurture motivation and self-confidence among disadvantaged students. High-quality mentoring programmes, for example, have been shown to be particularly beneficial for disadvantaged students. Focusing these activities on disadvantaged students is crucial, as they are the students who are least likely to receive this support elsewhere.


And while increasing time spent at school will not, in itself, improve overall performance, PISA results suggest that learning time at school should be considered when designing policies to raise performance levels among disadvantaged students. Many of these students might have ended up in tracks or schools where there is very little choice and no opportunity to take science–or perhaps any other academic–courses. As the saying goes, they can’t win if they aren’t allowed to play.



Against the Odds: Disadvantaged Students Who Succeed in School, ISBN 978-92-64-08995-2 (print), 978-92-64-08995-2 (PDF), will be available at in May 2011.


The pre-primary premium

Posted by 498371 Feb 4, 2011

How do students who had attended pre-primary school perform later on? Results from PISA 2009 couldn’t be clearer: in nearly all OECD countries, 15-year-olds who had attended pre-primary school performed better in reading than those who had not. And the benefits accrue to all students, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds.


The first issue of a new monthly OECD series, PISA in Focus, offers a brief discussion on the benefits of pre-primary education. And you can find related information at, and

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