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Diplomas are seen before being given to alternative high school program students, including three senior citizens, at the Agassiz Centre for Education in Agassiz, B.C., on Wednesday June 19, 2013.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Canadian students have weathered a difficult global recession better than most of their peers, thanks in large part to world-leading participation rates in higher education and strong vocational training, says a report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Canada continues to top the list of all OECD countries with 51 per cent of its adult population holding a postsecondary degree or diploma, bolstered by high numbers of graduates from community colleges, according to the OECD's 440-page Education at a Glance 2013. Countries with more young people coming out of vocationally focused programs "succeeded in reducing the risk of unemployment," the report says, and Canada was no exception as unemployment rates for most groups stayed comfortably below OECD averages.

Despite its strong performance, Canada wasn't immune to worrying international trends. The percentage of 15 to 29-year-olds neither employed nor in education or training (NEET) spiked by 1.6 percentage points between 2008 and 2011, though it has already come down from a higher 2010 level. And the gap between the fortunes of those with university or college credentials and those without has widened in recent years, as adults with a high school education or less saw their unemployment rates climb faster.

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Other noteworthy findings include:

– Public education spending in Canada is lagging behind international counterparts. Public funding accounted for an average of 84 per cent of education spending at all levels, compared with 76 per cent in Canada. The lag was more noticeable at the postsecondary level, where public sources now pay just 57 per cent of the costs in Canada, compared with 68 per cent across the OECD.

– Canada spends heavily on higher education over all – nearly $24,000 per student compared with an OECD average of about $14,200, ranking Canada second among all countries surveyed, behind only the United States.

– On many measures of primary and secondary education, Canada matches up well. One area where it appears to lag is in early childhood education: just 1 per cent of 3-year-olds and 48 per cent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in school, the report says, compared with 67 per cent and 84 per cent, respectively, across the OECD as a whole. But the disparity is misleading as Canada is only counting those in school-based programs, while other countries submit figures including students in learning programs outside schools, said Andrew Parkin, director general of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.

– Canadian teachers are well-paid by global standards. In 2011, those with 15 years of experience averaged earnings of nearly $59,000 no matter what level of students they taught, while OECD averages range from about $38,000 to $44,000. Canadian teachers also earn an average of 4 per cent more than their counterparts in other fields who have a university or college education.

Some of the report's findings are drawn from data gathered earlier than 2012, based on the statistics made available by the different countries participating.

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