Wednesday, 4 December 2013



The OECD has just released the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores for 2012 ( and as is to be expected England languished down in 26th place. This caused some debate on FaceBook, reactions ranging from the usual ‘hang Groves’ to the ‘well, all Asians are automata who’ve never had an original thought in their head’ rationalisations.

I’ve always been of the opinion that in a meritocracy (even a would-be one like the UK) the primary aim of the government should be to provide kids with the very best education possible in order that he or she can fulfil all their potential. And I don’t subscribe to this simply for altruistic motives: I’ve always believed that the better we educate our kids today, the wealthier we all will be tomorrow.

A neat, logical idea, but one which I’ve never stopped to prove.

So I got to thinking that a better educated population will produced more good ideas and as these ideas are often protected by patents it seemed logical (that word again!) to me that as a country’s education improved so too would the pace at which it filed patents. Fortunately thanks to the US Patent and Trademark Office ( it’s one that’s pretty easy to check.

I looked to see if the PISA rankings correlated with the increase in patent filings 2012 vs 1999. I had to do a little shuffling around: Macau which appears as number 6 on the PISA list is lumped in with China for patent purposes and I eliminated Lichtenstein, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia and Vietnam because they file so few patents that one either way skews things horribly. I also included the USA even tho' it came 34th on the PISA list. So this is the 22-country list (post amendments) I came up with:
COUNTRY                    PISA   RANK       PATENT RANK

CHINA                                   1                              1

SINGAPORE                        2                              2

HONG KONG                      3                              9

TAIWAN                               4                              5

SOUTH KOREA                   5                              3

JAPAN                                  6                              13

SWITZERLAND                   7                              17

NETHERLANDS                  8                              14

FINLAND                              9                              12

CANADA                              10                           10

BELGIUM                              12                           20

GERMANY                           13                           15

AUSTRIA                              14                           8

AUSTRALIA                         15                           7

IRELAND                              16                           4

DENMARK                           18                           11

NEW ZEALAND                  19                           6

FRANCE                               20                          18

ENGLAND                            21                           16

USA                                       22                           21

There seems to me to be a good correlation at the top and the bottom of my 22-Country table (i.e. the better educated countries do well and the poorly educated countries do badly) though the Antipodes and Ireland seem to do much better with regards to filing patents than I would have expected. Unfortunately what this also tell me (if patents today = jam tomorrow) is that England’s woes aren’t going to get better any time soon.