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Macao SAR above international standard

Almost half of Macau's resident labour force has higher education, which is above the international standard. Spending per student in 2020 would be the second highest in the OECD ranking, only behind Luxembourg

Guilherme Rego

Almost half of Macau’s working residents have higher education, according to the latest data from the Statistics and Census Bureau (DSEC). The percentage of residents without higher education in the labour market is slightly higher (50.7 per cent) – 9.6 per cent with primary education and 24.2 per cent with general or complementary secondary education.
If you add the foreign population in Macau to this equation, the percentage of the labour force with higher education drops to 45 per cent, which means that a large part of the foreign labour force is unskilled.

These are still highly positive figures, considering that Macau is above the 2022 international standard (41 per cent), according to UNESCO. At a national level it is also above average, since in 2022 only 36.6 per cent of the working population in China had higher education. In the neighbouring region of Hong Kong, the average in the 3rd quarter of 2023 was 34.5 percent, even lower.

To get a better idea, in a ranking of 42 countries made up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – the vast majority being developed countries – Macau would rank 15th, above countries like Portugal and Israel (47 per cent), or Germany (36 per cent). In Asia, it only loses out to South Korea (first place with 66 per cent) and Japan (third place with 65 per cent). It should be noted, however, that the most up-to-date figures are for 2021 and the international panorama may have changed in the meantime. A negative highlight is Brazil, a Portuguese-speaking country that appears on this list and is well below the average (23 per cent).

Strong investment

Frankly positive figures say a lot about the socio-economic development of a region. And they don’t usually happen by chance: those at the top of the table tend to spend more on education.

In this respect, Macau also stands out in a positive way: according to the Directorate of Education and Youth Services (DSEDJ), investment in education in 2020 became 6.9 per cent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product. This proportion is above the world average, which according to the World Bank was 4.2 per cent in the same year.

Public spending on education reached 12.3 per cent of the general budget in 2020. Looking at the total public expenditure of the MSAR government that year, which exceeded 99.5 billion MOP, according to DSEDJ, the education sector received 12.4 billion, of which 4.45 billion (4.5 per cent) went to higher education and 7.8 billion (7.8 per cent) went to non-higher education.

The number of students in that academic year totalled 121,969, which means that each student spent around 816,000 patacas, or 101.5 thousand US dollars. The country that spent the most according to the OECD ranking was Luxembourg, with 103,000 US dollars per student. After Luxembourg, the closest was the United States, with 66,577 dollars per student. This means that Macau, in 2020, would be in second place in this ranking. Portugal, for example, spent just 32,802 dollars per student.

Gender equality

Counting the total workforce, including non-residents, the majority are female (52 per cent). Their dominance is consolidated if we look at workers with higher education, rising by one point (53 per cent female and 47 per cent male). This means that women in Macau have more higher education than men, not only in number, but also in proportion.


There are currently 8,500 people looking for work in Macau, 7,500 of whom are looking for a new job and around 1,000 of whom are looking for their first job.

The vast majority of the unemployed previously worked in the gaming industry (1,500), hotels, restaurants and the like (1,200) and retail trade (1,100). Those looking for their first job mostly intend to enter the health and social action sector (400) and gambling (200).

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Generalist media, focusing on the relationship between Portuguese-speaking countries and China.

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