Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the relationship among different levels of education.
Design/methodology/approach – International cross-country comparisons, bi- and multivariate analyses, with many graphical illustrations. These methods are used to compare educational outcomes at the primary, secondary and tertiary level in terms of quantity (enrolment) and quality (measured in terms of student achievement, university rankings, patents and researchers), and to analyse the impact of heterogeneity between secondary schools on tertiary outcomes.
Findings – The results suggest that certain minimum levels of enrolment at primary and secondary level represent a necessary condition for the development of functioning higher education. Another relevant result of our analysis is that strong differences between educational institutions at secondary level may be detrimental for tertiary education quality.
Research limitations/implications – This research only represents an initial explorative analysis.
Practical implications – In order to improve tertiary education outcomes, education policy should not concentrate on tertiary education alone, but also consider insufficiencies at lower levels of education.
Originality/value – This paper attempts to fill a gap in the present educational literature in that it tries to provide some empirical evidence for the theoretical argument that quality tertiary education requires a sound basis of students to draw from; i.e. a basis of students which should be restricted as little as possible by lack of access to secondary or even primary education, and/or by lack of access to sufficiently quality oriented schools.