Luxembourg leads the way on education spending on a per-student basis, followed by the US and Sweden, according to a recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Stripping out tertiary education, Luxembourg keeps the top spot, with Austria and Norway coming directly behind, the OECD's Education at a Glance 2019 indicator shows.

Image: OECD

Across the OECD, annual spending per student from primary to tertiary education averaged around $10,500, with the smallest expenditure at roughly $3,600 a student in Colombia and Mexico.

Policymakers have long grappled with how to best equip citizens with relevant skills. The World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report 2018 explores how the companies of tomorrow are likely to demand different competencies, with the need for “human” attributes like critical thinking and creativity ever more relevant, as automation revolutionizes the workplace and eliminates some roles.

Different levels of expenditure on education can reflect governments’ priorities. OECD countries spend around 18% more per secondary student than they do per primary student, the report shows.

But some invest more per primary student, including Chile, Iceland and the UK, even though teachers’ salaries often increase in line with the level of education.

Image: OECD

The OECD also ranks countries based on the percentage of their total government expenditure on education.

Chile tops this list, followed by Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Aside from measures of total spending, it’s useful to consider broader metrics of skills and how future-proof different countries are. One of the pillars of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report looks at how prepared workforces are. Switzerland comes top in that pillar, with Germany, Finland and Denmark also scoring high marks.

What do we mean by ‘competitiveness’?

What is economic competitiveness? The World Economic Forum, which has been measuring countries' competitiveness since 1979, defines it as: “the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country." Other definitions exist, but all generally include the word “productivity”.


The Global Competitiveness Report is a tool to help governments, the private sector, and civil society work together to boost productivity and generate prosperity. Comparative analysis between countries allows leaders to gauge areas that need strengthening and build a coordinated response. It also helps identify best practices around the world.

The Global Competitive Index forms the basis of the report. It measures performance according to 114 indicators that influence a nation’s productivity. The latest edition covered 141 economies, accounting for over 98% of the world’s GDP.

Countries’ scores are based primarily on quantitative findings from internationally recognized agencies such as the International Monetary Fund and World Health Organization, with the addition of qualitative assessments from economic and social specialists and senior corporate executives.

Switzerland has “outstanding” human capital, according to the index, coming top in the world for vocational training, on-the-job training and employability of graduates. That, combined with its well-functioning labour market, means it is well placed to adapt to the disruptions brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the report says.